Pairing Wine With Seafood and Fish: Which Wine to Choose

A bottle of wine, a seafood plate, and a woman's hand holding a glass of white wine.
Estimated reading Time: 7 minutes

Pairing wine with seafood or fish is something that is often done- and can also often be done wrong. Seafood isn’t really like other things that you might pair wine with. There are many different facets to both seafood (are we talking about shellfish? Squid? Normal whitefish?), and wine (red, white, sparkling?). This can make pairing wine with seafood particularly challenging.

As with all food and wine pairings, the absolutely paramount thing to concern yourself with is whether you, the consumer, enjoy the pairings. If an article tells you that you absolutely must pair your halibut with Sauvignon Blanc but you find your heart sinking because you know that you just do not enjoy Sauvignon Blanc- you won’t enjoy the dish. In fact, if you have a wine that you hate- no matter how good the technicality of the pairing you run the risk of ruining the entire meal for yourself.

Generally speaking, when pairing wine with seafood, the kind of wine that you are looking for is a driving wine. The best wines for a seafood pairing will be fresh with a little texture to them. It’s very common to hear that you should only pair fish with white wine, but as you read on you will discover that that is simply not always the case.

Best Wine to Pair With Salmon

Salmon is arguably one of the most popular kinds of fish, especially served at a dinner party. How you serve it will depend on the type of wine you serve with your salmon. It’s worth noting as well that salmon is one of the fish that boldly defy what is expected of other fish and pairs very well with a light-bodied red wine.

A pan or oven-cooked salmon pairs excellently with a chilled Pinot Noir. Alternatively, the perfect dry white wine for salmon is a Chardonnay. Smoked Salmon, however, thanks to its bold flavors goes better with a bottle of sparkling wine (like champagne), or a bottle of sweet wine, like a Riesling.

Best Wine to Pair With Sushi

The best wine for sushi depends a little on what kind of sushi you are eating. The sauces and the variety of fish make pairing wine and sushi notoriously difficult- however, there are a couple of wines that are a pretty good all-rounder. Sauvignon Blanc is the most ‘mainstream’ of these, but you can also choose to pair it with a sparkling wine (which goes very well with almost everything), or more Japanese wines like Koshu- which should be available in a good sushi restaurant.

Best Wine to Pair With Scallops

Again, this depends a little on the way in which you have cooked the scallops. Raw scallops or those that have been ‘cooked’ in a ceviche style (with lemon or lime juice) will pair best with a bottle of sweet wine like a Riesling, or if you like your fish quite spicy (as ceviche is want to do) you can try with a Moscato.

However, pairing wine with Seared Scallops will go best with a full-bodied white such as a Chardonnay or a Chenin Blanc, as this will compliment both the texture and the bold flavor of the scallops, without being overpowered (you run a serious risk of this if you choose a bottle of light or medium-bodied wine.

Can You Pair Red Wine with Seafood Pasta?

It may seem unusual but this pairing can work very well together. Seafood pasta can be either a Spanish dish (as is more popular), or it can come from the coasts of Italy. The absolute best way to pair any wine and food, particularly something like seafood pasta is to do it by the region the dish was created.

This means that if you are cooking a seafood pasta with a Spanish influence you should try to pair it with a bottle of Spanish wine, ideally from the coasts of Spain. It can be either red or white, depending on your preference. The important thing in this pairing is that the regions match up as best as you can.

Best Wine to Pair With Lobster

Lobster is often seen as the epitome of class for seafood lovers. It’s decadent, it’s meaty, and it’s delicious. Because of the strong meaty textures in lobster, it’s better to pair it either with something that works with it congruently- like a Chardonnay or with something that will compliment the buttery flavor of the dish with its lovely aromatic notes- like a Riesling.

Of course, if you’re in the mood for decadence, then a sparkling wine (like a Champagne) has the versatility to go with almost all food- particularly lobster. See if you can get one that is predominantly made with the Chardonnay grape for the best complimentary flavor profile.

Best Wine to Pair With Haddock

Haddock, at least in England, is a very popular fish choice. It’s light, flakey, and deliciously fresh. So, which wine pairs best with haddock? try it with a light and fresh white wine like a Pinot Grigio, or a Sauvignon Blanc. These wines are fresh enough to bite through the protein of the fish, delivering a delicious citrus bite to the meal.

Thanks to its properties (of being light, flakey, and deliciously fresh) haddock does not pair well at all with red wines, even the light-bodied reds run the risk of overpowering such a delicate fish.

Best White Wine to Pair With Fish

The best one-size-fits-all white wine to pair with fish is Chardonnay. However, more delicate wine and white fish pairings such as cod, haddock, and halibut will pair much better with a lighter wine. Chardonnay is a full-bodied white, and while the buttery notes of this wine will complement the butteriness of the fish, a better pairing for delicate fish is something light and crisp, like a Pinot Grigio or a Sauvignon Blanc.

However, if you head into the territory of meatier fish like salmon and tuna, fish that has both more of a texture to it and more of a flavor, you can experiment a little more. These types of fish you can play around with a little more- moving away from the light-bodied white wines and adventuring into light-bodied red wines like a (chilled) Pinot Noir and full-bodied whites like Chardonnay.

Best Wine to Pair With Tuna Tartare

Tuna Tartare pairs very well with wines suitable for heavier fishes, so a light-bodied red wine like a light Burgundy or Pinot Noir would be a good choice. Alternatively, a full-bodied dry white wine will provide a different kind of flavor palette, complementing the herbs used in the cooking process.

Best Wine to Pair with Cioppino

Cioppino is an Italian seafood stew, that was created and originated out of San Francisco in California. Because it is seafood you can expect it to pair well with white wines, especially fuller-bodied wines such as Friulano, Zinfandel, or Chardonnay. This pairing is thanks to the shellfish and the texture of the shellfish inside.

Because the dish has Italian routes, the best pairings for it will be Italian wines, particularly (as mentioned above) full-bodied white wines.

Best Wine to Pair with Shrimp Cocktail

If your shrimp cocktail is made with a horseradish sauce then you can afford to play around with the flavors more than you normally might be able to with a typical fish or shrimp dish. This bold flavor means that you may want to opt for something sweet (for example a Riesling) to cut through the spiciness of the horseradish or alternatively, you can work with the tomato and pair it with a fruitier merlot.

Red Wine that Goes with Seafood

If your seafood is without sauce, then it’s likely that the best wines for it will be a full-bodied white, such as a Chardonnay (popular for its buttery flavors), a Viognier, or a Muscat. This is because seafood has a relatively thick and very buttery texture and flavor that a full-bodied white will complement perfectly.

Alternatively, if you prefer a bottle of red wine, then light-bodied reds, such as Pinot Noir or Zinfandel that have been slightly chilled are the best match for seafood. If you go too full-bodied then you are likely to completely overpower the seafood as well as poorly complimenting the wine- which is unfortunate for both the dish and the drink.

Best Wine to Pair With Crab Legs

Choosing a wine to go with crab legs depends on how you plan on having the crab legs. A solid all-rounder is of course the Chardonnay, but if you want to try and get a little more out of your wine then go for something that offers a little more fruit.

If you are serving the crab legs with a lemon dressing, pair it with a Pinot Grigio to really bring out the citrus in both. However, if you plan on having the crabs legs warm then try a Riesling, which will bring out the natural sweetness in both the dish and the wine.

Best Wine to Pair With Octopus

Octopus is one of the biggest outliers of seafood and wine pairing. Pairing wine with octopus is relatively easy because of its semi-neutral flavor. This means that you can pair it with the wine that you like. Anything works, from aromatic whites to a full-bodied red. It’s entirely down to your personal preference.

Grilled Octopus pairs very well with light to medium-bodied red wines like merlot, but of course, a glass of sparkling wine will cut through almost anything and complement it splendidly. When in doubt, settle on a sparkling.

Best Wine to Pair With Steak and Shrimp

This is a complicated dish to pair, as shrimp typically goes very well with a full-bodied white wine such as a chardonnay, and a steak pairs perfectly with a full-bodied red. However, the tannins of a full-bodied red may really harm the flavors of your shrimp, overpowering them and generally making the dish not very palatable. If you want to go for a red wine pairing then stick for something at the lower end of the tannin scale (so a light-bodied red).

However, a glass of white wine may not have the power to cut through the strong flavors of the meat and harmonize both the seafood and the steak.

So where does this leave us? With the one-size-fits-all sparkling wine of course. If you’re indulging in a Surf & Turf, pair it with dry champagne or sparkling wine.

Best Wine to Pair with Sea Bass

Sea bass may seem like it falls into the category of ‘meaty’ fish alongside tuna and salmon, but its mild flavoring keeps it out of the club. The best kind of wine to pair it with is a lively white with lots of flavors like a Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Grigio. This will allow your palette to experience lots more flavors than it would with just the fish, and prevent the dish from falling flat.

Best Wine to Pair With Fish Pie

It doesn’t matter so much whether your pie is pastry topped or potato topped, the creamy fish below is the main flavor of this dish. Focusing on both the flavors and the textures present, we can assume that a good, full-bodied white wine is a great accompaniment to this dish.

You could opt for the buttery Chardonnay, but try to stay away from the warmer climate Chardonnays, as cooler climate Chardonnay will provide more zest to your plate and pull the flavors of the dish together nicely. If Chardonnay isn’t your favorite wine then any full-bodied dry white will do perfectly for a fish pie pairing- or, of course, a lovely bottle of sparkling wine.

Final Notes

Wine with seafood is a complicated subject- with such a broad selection of both seafood and wine, it is an exhaustive subject. Drinks such as sparkling wine are generally successful throughout, and full-bodied dry whites like Chardonnay are almost universal in seafood pairings.

No matter what you choose, the most important thing is that YOU like it. There’s no wrong answers in food and wine pairing, so figure out what you like and just enjoy it.