Do you have to drink white wine with fish?

June 6th, 2024 | Mary Domange

The short answer is no, but the style of wine you pair with a delicate fillet of sole or a plate of oysters, compared to a rich fish stew or a grilled lobster can make or break the meal.

So how do we navigate wine choices with a range of fish and shellfish, and are there any hard and fast rules we should obey?

General rules for food and wine pairing

Pairing wine with food always revolves around one principle: the wine should complement the key elements of the dish. Consider the sweetness, saltiness, acidity, and how light or heavy it is, as well as whether it includes rich sauces or the sommelier’s challenge – tomatoes.

What to drink with delicate white fish 

If you are planning a light meal of white fish such as seabass, sea bream or sole, it would be a shame to overpower the flavours by pairing it with a full-bodied red wine which would do a disservice to both.

With light, white fish, choose a crisp, dry white wine that will balance the delicate flavours of the food. Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Picpoul de Pinet, Torrontes or Gavi are all good options.

What to drink with salmon, trout and mackerel 

Oilier fish can be tackled two ways. First, a high acidity grape, such as Sauvignon Blanc, will cut through the natural fattiness of the fish. Or pick a light red wine such as Gamay, Beaujolais or St Nicolas de Bourgueil – which all benefit from being served very lightly chilled. 

What to drink with fish in creamy sauces 

Heavier fish dishes such as fish pie, or monkfish with a creamy mushroom sauce need a more full-bodied white. Any well-made Chardonnay works well with rich fish dishes, from a simple everyday varietal to a good Chablis or a Macon Solutré, depending on your budget. An aromatic Viognier or Albarino would be another option. Essentially you want to match the fullness of the food with a wine that can hold its own. A lighter whit wine would be lost in the face of a hearty fish pie. 

What to drink with fish in tomato-based sauces 

One of the hardest matches for any sommelier, is to find wines that work with tomato dishes. Tomato has very high acidity, so it either needs to be matched with a wine of equally high acidity – perhaps a flinty Sancerre, or with a fruity, spicy Rosé or even a light Italian red wine such as Barbera d’Asti. 

What to drink with oysters 

For me, the only option really is a good, crisp Muscadet – an absolute match made in heaven. I’d be hard pushed to match a red wine of any sort with the iodine, salty seawater flavours of a fresh oyster. Other whites that would work however, would include any sort of Sauvignon Blanc, from a New Zealand varietal to a fine Menetou-Salon or a Sancerre. 

What to drink with lobster, shellfish and smoked salmon

This is where a good Champagne shines. The high acidity balances the richness of the lobster. Alternatively, a fine Chardonnay such as Pouilly Fuissé or Chablis will add richness and a velvety texture to the dish. Given the cost of these foods, it's worth pairing it with an equally luxurious wine.

What to drink with Sushi?

Saki, of course! But if wine is more your thing, then go for a Pinot Blanc from Alsace or Pouilly-Fumé from the Loire. A Tursan Blanc is a safe choice for all Asian fish dishes and I’d have no truck with choosing a light red Pinot Noir, perhaps from New Zealand.

The wine with fish shortlist

White fish, grilled or pan fried

Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Picpoul, Gavi

Salmon, trout, mackerel

Sauvignon Blanc including Sancerre and Pouily Fumé, Gamay, Saint Nicolas de Bourgeuil

White fish in creamy sauce

Chardonnay including Chablis or Macon, Viognier, Albarino 

Fish in rich tomato sauce

Sancerre, Rosé de Provence, Barbera d'Asti

Oysters

Muscadet, Sauvignon Blanc NZ, Menetou-Salon

Lobster, shellfish & Smoked Salmon

Champagne, Chardonnay inc Pouilly Fuisse & Chablis

Sushi

Saki, Pinot Blanc, Pouilly Fumé, Pinot Noir

Great wines for fish

A few of our favourite wines to pair with fish dishes
Pouilly Fume AOC Les Croqloups 2022, Domaine Chauveau
Pouilly Fume AOC Les Croqloups 2022, Domaine Chauveau
£21.20
Silver Medal in the World Sauvignon awards
£21.20
Sauvignon BlancFranceLoire Valley12.5%Fresh & Elegant
Saint Nicolas de Bourgeuil 2019 Domaine du Fondis - Wine at Home
Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil AOC 2022, Domaine du Fondis
£16.95
£16.95
Cabernet FrancFranceLoire Valley12.5%Elegant & Fruity
Sauvignon blanc L’Explosif du Fresne IGP Val de Loire 2018, Domaine du Fresne - Wine at Home
Sauvignon Blanc IGP Val de Loire L’explosif du Fresne 2023, Domaine du Fresne
£16.55
£16.55
Sauvignon BlancFranceLoire Valley12%Crisp & Fresh
Beaujolais Les Seves Cuvée IIIB AOP 2018, Renaud Bodillard
Beaujolais Les Seves Cuvée IIIB AOP 2018, Renaud Bodillard
£18.15
Fully organic small production
£18.15
GamayFranceBeaujolais13%Soft & Fruity
Pinot Blanc AAC 2022, Henri Kieffer Fils
Pinot Blanc AAC 2022, Henri Kieffer Fils
£14.65
£14.65
Pinot BlancFranceAlsace12%Light & Floral
Gamay Loire IGP Val de Loire 2019, Domaine R de la Grange
Gamay Loire IGP Val de Loire 2019, Domaine R de la Grange
£13.80
£13.80
GamayFranceLoire Valley12%Light & Fruity
Côtes de Provence AOC 2021 Rosé, Château La Vivonne
Côtes de Provence AOC 2021 Rosé, Château La Vivonne
£19.90
£19.90
Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre FranceProvence13%Floral & Fruity
Albarino Silfide wine from Rias Baixas is proving increasingly popular
Albariño Silfide Val do Salnes DO Rias Baixas 2022, Tomada de Castro
£15.85
£15.85
AlbariñoSpainRias Baixas12.5%Fresh & Aromatic
Menetou-Salon Blanc Les Chamblins AOC 2022, Domaine Raimbault Pineau
Menetou-Salon Blanc Les Chamblins AOC 2022, Domaine Raimbault Pineau
£22.30
Crisp Sauvignon adjacent to Sancerre
£22.30
Sauvignon BlancFranceLoire Valley12.5%Fresh & Crisp
Pinot Noir 2016 Map Maker - Wine at Home
Pinot Noir Marlborough 2021, Map Maker
£24.55
£24.55
Pinot NoirNew ZealandMarlborough13%Soft & Elegant
Encosta do Vale Galego Rosé 2020 Marques Cordeiro
Encosta do Vale Galego Rosé 2020 Marques Cordeiro
£13.50
£13.50
Syrah, Tinta RorizPortugalTejo14%Fresh & Aromatic
Chablis AOC 2019 Domaine Ellevin - Wine at Home
Chablis AOC 2022, Jean-Pierre et Alexandre Ellevin
£25.95
£25.95
ChardonnayFranceBurgundy12.5%Elegant & Complex
Chardonnay IGP Pays d'Oc blanc 2023, Château Saint-Bénézet
Chardonnay IGP Pays d'Oc blanc 2023, Château Saint-Bénézet
£12.95
New Vintage
£12.95
ChardonnayFranceRhone Valley13%Fresh & Elegant
Tursan Blanc AOC 2022, La Cave des Vignerons Landais
Tursan Blanc AOC 2022, La Cave des Vignerons Landais
£12.50
£12.50
Baroque, Gros Manseng, Sauvignon BlancFranceSouth West12%Fresh & Floral
Muscadet Sèvres et Maine sur Lie Vieilles Vignes 2017 - Wine at Home
Muscadet Sèvre & Maine AOC sur Lie Vieilles Vignes 2022, Domaine R de la Grange
£14.85
Bestseller
£14.85
Melon de BourgogneFranceLoire Valley12%Crisp & Lively
Pinot Grigio DOC Venezia 2022, Nave de Oro
Pinot Grigio DOC Venezia 2022, Nave de Oro
£14.55
£14.55
Pinot GrigioItalyVeneto12.5%Elegant & Intense
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