Pairing Fish with Wine: The Ultimate Guide

Ahoy there! Venturing into the shimmering sea of wine and fish pairings? No need to dive deep into intimidating jargon; let’s keep things swimmingly simple. Whether you’re enjoying a hearty salmon steak or a delicate sole, there’s a wine to elevate your piscatorial feast.


Fish is a culinary chameleon. From the robust, meaty textures of tuna to the soft, flaky white fish like cod, the variety is as vast as the ocean. This breadth of flavors and textures gives us plenty of opportunities to find the perfect wine counterpart. Let’s explore the different types of fish and the wines what would go well with them.

  1. Light and Flaky Fish

Examples: Sole, Sea Bass, Tilapia

  • Whites: A crisp Pinot Grigio or a zesty Albariño offers a delicate touch to complement these fish. Their high acidity and citrusy notes will enhance the fish’s natural flavors without overpowering them.
  • Sparkling: A refreshing Prosecco can be a playful pairing, making each bite feel even more luxurious.
  1. Medium-textured Fish

Examples: Snapper, Trout, Mahi Mahi

  • Whites: The slightly richer profile of these fish can be matched with a fuller-bodied white like Chardonnay (unoaked for fresher flavors or oaked for a buttery finish).
  • Rosé: A dry rosé, with its subtle red fruit notes, can be a delightful companion, especially if your fish is grilled.
  1. Rich Fish

Examples: Salmon, Tuna, Mackerel

  • Whites: An oaked Chardonnay or a lush Viognier can stand up to the fattiness of these fish, offering a harmonious balance.
  • Reds: Yes, red with fish! A light Pinot Noir with its soft tannins and red berry flavors can be a surprising and delightful partner, especially for grilled preparations.
  1. Fish with Strong Flavors

Examples: Sardines, Anchovies, Herring

  • Whites: The pronounced flavors of these fish can benefit from the aromatic punch of a Gewürztraminer or a Grüner Veltliner.
  • Sparkling: The effervescence of a Cava or Champagne can cleanse the palate and make each bite feel anew.
  1. Shellfish

Examples: Shrimp, Lobster, Oysters, Scallops

  • Whites: A mineral-rich Muscadet or Chablis can echo the salinity of these sea treasures, while a Sauvignon Blanc with its green and tropical fruit notes is delightful with herb or citrus-based preparations.
  • Sparkling: Especially for raw or lightly cooked preparations, bubbles can be magical. Think fresh oysters with a bracingly cold Champagne. Perfection!

Sauces Change the Game

So far, so good, but toss in the complexity of sauces, and it’s a whole new ballgame. Let’s explore how sauces can dramatically influence your choice of wine, enhancing or altering the essence of a fish dish.

  1. The Elegance of Butter and Cream Sauces

E.g., Beurre blanc, Alfredo, Hollandaise

These rich, velvety sauces add a luxurious texture and depth to fish.

  • Impact on Fish: They can coat lighter fishes, like tilapia or sole, transforming them into richer-tasting dishes. With heavier fishes, like salmon, they accentuate the natural fattiness.
  • Wine Pairing: Opt for wines with enough body to complement the creamy texture. An oaked Chardonnay, with its buttery notes, or a Viognier with its aromatic richness can be stellar choices.
  1. The Zest of Citrus Sauces

E.g., Lemon-dill sauce, Lime & garlic marinade

Citrus cuts through the natural flavors of fish with its sharp, vibrant acidity.

  • Impact on Fish: The tanginess can elevate lighter fishes and balance out oily ones, such as mackerel.
  • Wine Pairing: Go for wines that echo this acidity. A zesty Albariño or a crisp Sauvignon Blanc mirror the citrusy brightness and prevent the dish from feeling too heavy.
  1. The Heartiness of Tomato-based Sauces

E.g., Marinara, Puttanesca

Tomato sauces add an earthy richness, replete with umami and often a hint of sweetness.

  • Impact on Fish: While robust enough for meatier dishes, when paired with fish, they can overshadow delicate ones and complement robust ones like swordfish.
  • Wine Pairing: A light Chianti or a Grenache with their red fruit notes can be harmonious. If you prefer whites, a fuller-bodied Vermentino can stand up to the sauce’s intensity.
  1. The Intensity of Umami Sauces

E.g., Teriyaki, Soy & ginger glaze

These sauces pack an umami punch, often with a touch of sweetness.

  • Impact on Fish: They can transform even a subtle fish like snapper into a bold, flavor-forward dish.
  • Wine Pairing: Consider wines that can balance this umami richness. A Gewürztraminer with its touch of sweetness or a chilled Pinot Noir with its soft tannins and red berries can be fantastic matches.
  1. The Kick of Spicy Sauces

E.g., Spicy mango salsa, Chili & lime dressing

Spicy sauces bring heat, which can amplify or overshadow the flavors of fish.

  • Impact on Fish: They add a kick to milder fishes, such as cod, and can hold their own with stronger-flavored fishes like sardines.
  • Wine Pairing: To counterbalance the heat, off-dry wines like Riesling or Chenin Blanc can be stellar, offering a touch of sweetness against the spice.

In essence, while the fish is the star of the show, sauces can be the directors, setting the mood and tone of the dish. Recognizing the transformative power of these sauces allows you to adapt your wine choices, ensuring harmony on the palate. The dance of flavors between fish, sauce, and wine can be a gastronomic ballet when executed with understanding and finesse. Cheers to perfect trios and culinary revelations!

Tips to Remember:

  • Match the Weight: Pair light wines with delicate fish and fuller-bodied wines with richer fish.
  • Consider the Preparation: Grilled, smoked, or heavily sauced fish might push you toward bolder wine choices.
  • Experiment!: Just as with our pasta pairings, don’t be scared to try new combinations. Your palate, your rules.
  • Local Pairings: Coastal wines often pair beautifully with seafood. Consider the regional delicacies and their local wines as a potential match.
  • Watch the Tannins: Heavily tannic wines can give a metallic taste with fish. If you’re leaning towards red, ensure it’s low in tannins.

The world of wine and fish pairings is as vast and exciting as the seven seas. Let your palate be the captain of this journey. Drop anchor, pour a glass, take a bite, and set sail into the delightful flavors.

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Written by

Bernard Marr has a deep passion for wine. He has written hundreds of articles on wine, including features for Forbes, covering wine-making and industry trends. Away from the world of wine, Bernard is a world-renown business and technology futurist. He is the award winning author of over 20 best-selling books and has a combined audience of nearly 4 million people across his social media channels and newsletters.

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