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Pairing French Wines With Seafood

William S. Shepard, Wine Editor | Tuesday, Jul 1st 2014
pairing french wine

When pairing French wine with seafood, it is good to consider that though it is customary to serve white wines with seafood or poultry, and red wines with beef and other red meats, fish varies in flavor; some are light and others are more substantial.

How the fish is cooked, and with what sauce, are important factors, just as gravies affect the overall presentation of meats, particularly game. And, of course, not all white wines are the same. Some are light, others rich with flavor. And some age well, while others are meant to be consumed within a few years of bottling. With this in mind, let’s consider a dozen or so seafood options, and choose wines to go with them.

Pairing French Wines With Seafood

  • Raw Oysters: raw oysters go perfectly with chilled Chablis (some say because the vineyards of Chablis are built over deep layers of shells from past millennia). You won’t be disappointed with a William Fèvre premier cru Les Vaillons Chablis (2005, $36). Actually, I prefer Oysters Rockefeller, and this fine cooked oyster dish, created at Antoine’s in New Orleans, also goes well with Chablis. You could, however, substitute a Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace rosé ($22, nonvintage), a salmon-pink sparkling wine that goes well with the flavors of cooked oysters and spices.
  • Steamed Lobster: We have just feasted on steamed lobster for Father’s Day, enjoying it with a bottle of Lucien Albrecht Pinot Blanc Cuvée Balthazar (2010, $14). Pinot Blanc seems to go quite well with lobster, with its substantial flavor, neither sweet nor spicy. We had large lobsters, and the leftover meat was just enough for lobster rolls the next day.
  • Spicy Shrimp: Spicy shrimp is a summer treat, by the half pound at least! You’ll enjoy it with Muscadet wine, such as Château Chéreau-Carré Chasseloir sur lie (2010, $12). This is a flavorful wine that sets off the shrimp well.
  • Steamed clams: these also pair well with your favorite Muscadet wine. For steamed mussels with garlic sauce, on the other hand, I would suggest a fine Pouilly-Fumé from the Loire Valley, a clear and refreshing wine made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes (Didier Pabiot Pouilly-Fumé 2011, $20).
  • Shrimp Cocktail: here the flavors of the sauce indicate a contrasting wine. I am very pleased that one of the finest Bordeaux wine producers, is now producing a rosé wine, and at a reasonable price (Domaine de Chevalier 2013, $15). “This may be the start of a beautiful friendship,” as Rick Blaine said to Captain Reynaud in Casablanca!                     
  • Crab cakes: these are a Chesapeake Bay favorite. You might wish to have a fine white Graves wine, such as Château Bouscaut blanc (2011, $32). This is a classic Bordeaux blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, from a region that is justly becoming better known. The wine has good body, matching well with crab cakes.
  • Scallops: Scallops are delicious, but I am one who prefers them well done. Their flavor is intense, and it will work with several of the wines already discussed (Muscadet, Alsatian Pinot Blanc). But why not try something new? When I was made a member of the Compagnons du Bordeaux wine society, an experienced winemaker urged me think beyond the usual strictures of wines and foods. Grilled eel was the first course, and although a fish, it had such a strong flavor, my friend urged, that a young red wine would go well. For scallops, I would suggest a mild red Loire Valley wine made from Cabernet Franc grapes, from Chinon or Bourgueil (Vignobles du Paradis, Chinon 2009, $14).

And then there are the grand fish dishes, for a fine dinner, with wines to match.

  • Salmon and swordfish: these fish are readily available and popular options, and their weighty flavor suggests a comparable wine. Try a fine white Burgundy, which will marry well with flavors that complement the fish. I would suggest a Meursault from a reliable producer, perhaps Louis Latour (2013, $49). As time goes on, you can vary the wine served with the sauces that accompany the fish.
  • That reminds me of an excellent fish, sander—or “pike-perch”—that is found in Hungary and in Burgundy. It has a rich, nutty taste, and goes memorably with white Burgundy wine. Try it with a Latour Puligny-Montrachet (2006, $56), and you will have a meal that will be recalled with pleasure for many years to come.
  • I still recall my first taste of turbot. It was while I was driving to Turkey from Greece with another Embassy officer. We had just passed Philippi and admired the Roman ruins. We stopped at a restaurant overlooking the bay, and were told that turbot, a rare delicacy, was freshly caught. The flavor was light and delicate, but substantial and lingering. A light white wine of high quality was indicated, and we found it, years later. That was when I first tasted a Bonneau de Martray Corton Charlemagne. This version of the grand cru white Burgundy is light, with a lingering flavor. A few years ago we enjoyed a bottle at a dinner in England. It went perfectly with filet of Dover sole with Meunière sauce, sautéed at the table. It is expensive, but the wine and fish created a festive dinner occasion that we will remember for years. (Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne 2002, $170.)

What do you like to pair your French wine with? Tell us below!

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