Essential Wine with Salmon Pairings
In the fish family, there’s absolutely nothing like salmon for comfort food with luxurious flavor. Moreover, salmon (ahem) dishes out all kinds of health goodies like Omega-3; Vitamin D; B Vitamins 3, 5, 6 and B12; protein; potassium; selenium and phosphorous. Find a few essential wine pairings for this salmon goodness prepared a few different ways, and you can rest assured you’ve treated your body well while treating yourself.
Now that we’re bent on finding those essential wine with salmon pairings, several questions must be tackled. Which of the myriad versions of salmon should we eat? (Just as there are many types of wine, there are many types of salmon. Whatever the species you prefer, generally wild-caught is preferred to farmed for its denser nutritional value.) Your specimen chosen, how do you prepare and cook it? (Salmon is kind of the chicken of the sea; it takes well to all sorts of preparations.) Each answer here tinkers with your essential salmon wine pairing.
If You’re In a Rush or Before Your Local Stores Leave You Disappointed: Read This Primer on Best Wines with Salmon
Let’s take the foot off the gas for a moment: if you don’t have the time to parse through this article or, alternatively, were you to read it with gusto then not find the same types of wines in your local shops, know that your wine with salmon pairing will be okay. (And, so will you! No stress!) You simply can’t go wrong with a Chardonnay that has seen a touch of new oak in its crafting or one of your favorite Pinot Noirs.
These two, historical wine grape varieties (sometimes referred to as “Burgundian” grape varieties because they are the two primary grape varieties grown in France’s Burgundy wine region, south of Paris) pair particularly well with salmon because of how their innate characteristics match or contrast salmon’s high fat content and chunky flesh.
The Best White Wine Pairing with Salmon
When crafted in oak barrels – either fermented or aged in them – Chardonnay develops a smoother and more voluptuous texture that stands up beautifully alongside salmon’s fattiness. Depending on the style of Chardonnay, its acidity level may be subtler and blend into the palate with the fish or it may have enough refreshing zing to keep the palate watering throughout the meal. If you’re planning to match a white wine with salmon, this is the surest bet.
The Best Red Wine Pairing with Salmon
There are fewer red wines that pair better with salmon than Pinot Noir. This über-popular grape delivers a delicately flavored red wine that won’t clobber salmon’s nuanced deliciousness. (We’re looking for a “wine pairing”, not a “wine throwdown”.) Reds generally offer more heft, or body, than a white wine, which helps it match the richer texture of salmon’s oily flesh. (Granted, broader shouldered-styles of Chardonnay can match Pinot Noir in this weight class.) Also, Pinot Noir universally has refined and discreet tannins. This prevents the age-old, unpleasant clash between wine tannins (or some wines’ iron content derived from certain soil types, per some sources) and seafood. Finally, Pinot Noir has perky acidity to “wash off” the salmon’s unctuous strains, constantly reviving the palate for another bite and, just maybe, a second helping. If you are craving – or determined to serve – red wine with salmon, Pinot Noir is your ticket.
The Best Rosé Wine with Salmon Pairing
Rosé is made from pretty much every grape on the planet (including white grapes sometimes!), and it’s often blended. So, forget the grape(s) and match the color of your salmon’s flesh to your rosé wine. The paler the rosé and the salmon, generally the more subtle the flavor. Instead, are you buying a richly colored, late summer slab of Coho or Chinook? Then opt for a darker rosé. It will have more flavor oomph to match your fish, and it will very likely have more body to match your salmon’s fatty texture.
Best Wines with Salmon Based on Preparation
If you know just how you like your salmon prepared, or if you’re like me and start with the glass then work backward to the plate, read on for suggestions for wine pairings with different salmon preparations.
This string of preparations works from less to more cooked. It’s not a comprehensive list, but hopefully there are enough ideas to help you find your essential wine pairing for salmon.
Pairing Wine with Salmon Tartar and Crudo
Tartar and crudo can dynamically reveal the nuances of a piece of fish or cover up its true colors. Regardless the preparation, I love rosé wine with salmon tartar and salmon crudo. Depending on the heartiness of the salmon’s flavor (and its depth of color), I will vary between a lighter red, like the Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Noir lightly chilled, and a heartier white like the nicely dry Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Gris.
Pairing Wine with Smoked Salmon
Smoked salmon can enter any meal of the day, from breakfast to appetizers at dinner. As smoked salmon is neither raw nor truly cooked (most salmon is cold smoked), it reminds me a lot of rosé wine, which is a true cross-over of white and red wines. Rosé is the perfect medium here, regardless the many possible accompaniments.
Pairing Wine with Crispy Skin Salmon
There’s nothing like putting skin in the game, especially when you’ve picked seared salmon skin with a top notch wine pairing. When I think of salmon with crispy skin, I think of heat-kissed flesh that tastes and almost melts like butter. (The very best cuts of salmon tend to be reserved for this style of service.) Since no one is skimping on the cut of fish, there’s no point in skimping on the wine. Keep the match full-throttle with the Kendall-Jackson Stature Chardonnay. If red is where it’s at for you, snatch a bottle of Jackson Estate Outland Ridge Pinot Noir for its forest floor and briar tones that align nicely with the savory tones of the salmon skin.
Pairing with with Salmon Sous Vide / Slow Cooking
Sous vide is all the rage in snazzy restaurants these days, but now it’s super easy (and finally affordable) to do at home, too. If you don’t have the gadget and the sealing bags to snuggle up the fish for slow, low temperature cooking in water, you can mimic this preparation by slow cooking your salmon in the oven.
If you sous vide your salmon, you can spruce it up before serving it - like slapping it on a grill to give it some crunchiness on its exterior – or just plate it as is. This is a perfect method for delivering fork-tender salmon to an over-the-top salad.
Your wine pairing options here differ depending on the final presentation of the salmon. For the Slow Cooked Salmon with Fresh Oregano Fennel Salad, the Grand Reserve Chardonnay will be a hit! If your salmon is less unctuous or your salad ingredients are perkier (zestier limes, more peppery radishes, etc), try the Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc.
Pairing Wine with Grilled Salmon
I like to grill Sockeye Salmon as it has firmer flesh, even if its one of the fattiest salmon out there. The former means it holds up well on the grill and the latter means it’s less likely to dry out.
Between the firmness of this fish, its ability to seamlessly absorb chary, smoky characters and its substantial fattiness, this is the one preparation where I dare venture beyond Pinot Noir in the red spectrum. I’d go straight to a Merlot wine pairing for this salmon. The key is finding the Merlot of the right weight and toasty influence to allow this pairing to shine. The Vintner’s Reserve Merlot is a bit more of a merrier and lighter sip to carry the depth of this preparation. (I’d sip it while making the fish!) At the table, I’d drink the Jackson Estate Taylor Peak Merlot for its dramatically layered flavors of fleshy fruit and evident toast tones that will stand up to the fulsome, grilled flesh.
Pairing Wine with with Salmon Sauces
Here’s where salmon wine pairings go wild! Akin to my mention of salmon being chicken-like in its flexibility with preparations, salmon pairs impressively well with a myriad of sauces: some devilish barbecue heat, a ravishingly moreish and playful béarnaise aioli or a classic sour cream and dill accompaniment? Salmon’s got it. No sweat. Cue the preparation tips from above, but know that the sauces will dominate the final flavors and textures for your essential wine pairing with the salmon.
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Christy Canterbury is a Master of Wine, journalist, speaker and judge based in New York City. In 2014, she was short-listed for the Roederer Online Wine Communicator of the Year Award. Her work has been published in Decanter, Wine Enthusiast, Edible Green Mountains, Wine Searcher, Food Arts, Snooth, Beverage Media, TimAtkin.com, Civiltà del Bere, Wine Business Monthly, TASTED, Selectus Wines and in other outlets.