An Oenophile’s Nightmare: Red Wine with Fish

Wine connoisseurs, be forewarned: the following article may offend your senses. Proceed with caution…

About a dozen years ago, a friend of mine told me an amusing story that I still remember – about his then-recent trip to Paris and the difficulty he encountered in trying to enjoy a meal with a Parisian who insisted that my friend pair his seafood dinner with white wine instead of red.

My friend, like many other people I know – clearly prefers red to white, and so he decided to drink red instead. The Frenchman, my friend described, was visibly disturbed throughout the meal, politely urging my friend to try a glass of white, instead. After a while, so as not to prolong the native’s distress, my friend acquiesced and switched from red to white.

I, too, like red wine better than white, as does my wife, as evidenced by a considerably higher turnover of red bottles at our house – whereas the white ones usually come in handy during the hot summer months, or on the rare occasion when a guest drinks white only.

Nonetheless, though I  have no problem drinking white wine when the occasion calls for it, it was another friend that caused me to “think outside the box” in terms of food and wine pairings. The incident to which I refer, dinner I had with this other friend, happened only a couple of years ago. We ordered fresh fish at a fine seafood restaurant, and he asked what we ought to drink. “I’ll have wine,” he said.  “I know you’re supposed to drink white wine with seafood, but white wine gives me a headache, so I’m going to have the red.”  It was then that I had a revelation: I like red better than white anyway, who’s to stop me from ordering the red, too?  “I’ll have the red, too,” I chimed in. “Let’s get a bottle.”

From that point on, I have continued to drink white – and sometimes rose, particularly in Greece – with seafood, but do not hesitate to switch to red as the mood strikes me. A lighter red, like a pinot noir, or even a new vine Zinfandel.

Besides, I rarely pair every course with a different wine, and so, chances are that even when I order fish as an entree, I might indulge in an appetizer or two to which red is a better complement, anyway.

My advice as a self-identifying wine amateur, then, is: because most of your dinner guests still prefer the conventional white-with-seafood pairing, I would keep a bottle of Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, or Sauvignon Blanc handy. When it comes to your own palate, however, you and you alone are judge and jury. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.