The 10 Best Wine Pairings for Shellfish

The 10 Best Wine Pairings for Shellfish

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The 10 Best Wine Pairings for Shellfish

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From our humblest shoreline snacks to the grandest crustacean spreads, shellfish are always a treat. That tender flesh with its bracing marine edge can also prove supremely wine friendly. Is your mouth watering yet? Take inspiration from these 10 top wine pairings for shellfish.

1. Oysters

A raw oyster slurped straight from its shell is the perfect taste of the sea. Look for a wine with similar qualities: Muscadet and Picpoul share a refreshing saline quality that hits the spot. It may lie rather further inland, but Chablis sits on an ancient seabed littered with oyster shells whose cool, mineral character magically transmits into the region’s wine.

If there’s shallot vinegar involved then reach for the zest and fruit of a Bordeaux Blanc, particularly those unoaked Entre-Deux-Mers examples that refresh the crowds of thirsty oyster fans who descend on Arcachon in southwest France each summer. Champagne is another favourite with oysters, particularly on celebratory occasions, but make sure it’s a very dry style. Fizz is also an excellent match with cooked oysters.


Fresh oysters served with lemon

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2. Mussels

What could be more classic than a bowl of moules marinières with a bottle of Muscadet? That heady broth full of saline, garlicky, fishy aromas, a waft of fresh parsley and decadent splash of creaminess all slip down beautifully with a wave of this crisp, refreshing wine from the far western Loire.

Look for a good quality example aged “sur lie” (on the lees) for a little more body, although lightness is a hallmark of this unpretentious, reliably inexpensive wine. If your broth has more of an Asian slant then reach for Riesling, whose piercing acidity carries a rich, limey tang that would play beautifully with coconut milk and lemongrass.


Tasty mussels with fishy aromas

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3. Razor clams

Sweet and tender, razor clams can handle some rich accompaniments and full flavoured wines. In Chile “machas a la parmesana” – razor clams grilled in their shell with parmesan cheese, butter and white wine – are a popular starter whose marine tang is invariably served with one of the country’s cool, coastal Sauvignon Blancs.

However, there’s a robust, smoky element to clams cooked this way which would also lend itself to a fuller, more mature style of Sauvignon, perhaps with some oak influence or Semillon component. Think Bordeaux Blanc or Hunter Valley Semillon.


Razor clams

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4. Sea urchin

Salty, sweet, creamy with a streak of iron: sea urchins are rich in both flavour and texture, making them something of an acquired taste but a real delicacy among converts. There are two possible approaches with a wine match here: either find a wine with the weight and aroma to stand up to such a powerfully flavoured dish or choose a far less assertive wine that will offer a cleansing backdrop, allowing the star ingredient to shine.

If the former appeals, then an Alsace Pinot Gris would have the required charisma; if the latter, then seek out the transparent purity of Koshu from Japan, a country where sea urchin is particularly prized. Even better, if less grape-based, serve chilled sake.


Fresh sea urchins

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5. Scallops

An almost irresistible starter once spotted on the menu, scallops are sweet, succulent and very wine friendly. Fine slivers served raw might call for a cleansing Albariño. Add a caramelised edge by searing them in a pan and they’ll flatter a richer white Burgundy, Condrieu or Champagne.

If the dish features a vibrant pea purée or bright citrus influence then match it with the zesty brightness of a Sauvignon Blanc from the coolest parts of South Africa.


Scallops, an almost irresistible starter

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6. Abalone

This large mollusc is found in the seas off many Southern Hemisphere countries as well as the West Coast of the US. Highly prized, especially in Asian countries, abalone has a chewy texture with a sweet, buttery taste. When served raw as sashimi or cooked simply, this is a shellfish that calls for the lemony freshness of an unoaked Chardonnay or bright, citrussy flair of a Margaret River Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend.

In China, abalone is far more likely to appear with a red wine, especially when braised in a savoury, dark stock. Try a plush New Zealand Pinot Noir to flatter the richness of the abalone but also stand up to all those intense shitake mushroom, soy and oyster sauce flavours in the broth.

Abalone has a chewy texture with a sweet, buttery taste

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7. Clams

Just about every coastal nation will have a local species of clam and favourite way to prepare these small, tasty shellfish. In the US, the answer is most famously clam chowder, although whether the base for this should be cream, tomato or simply clear clam broth is enthusiastically contested.

Match a creamy chowder with a similarly rich, buttery Californian Chardonnay; turn to the spicy, smoky weight of an Oregon Pinot Gris for the tomato-based version; and show off the light, saline broth of a clear Rhode Island chowder with the marine tang of that ultimate shellfish wine, Rias Baixas Albariño.

Similar regional tweaks apply to that other clam classic, Italy’s spaghetti alle vongole. If you’re in Venice it makes sense to reach for the light, unoaked refreshment of a good quality Pinot Grigio. Where the recipe takes on bolder tomato and chilli influences, then look for a richer southern Italian white to match: Campania’s Fiano or Greco di Tufo would be delicious.   


Pasta with clams

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8. Crab

Whisper it, but some people prefer crab to the decadence of lobster. There’s certainly something mouth-watering about a simply dressed crab, its delicate white meat offset by the rich brown meat and just an invigorating squeeze of lemon. The marine notes of Chablis or softer yet saline Albariño would both be classic choices here.

If your crab takes on a more Asian slant, such as Thai crab cakes, then look for the limey brightness of a Clare Valley Riesling or the rich yet racy precision found in so many great Austrian examples of this grape.


Crab has a satisfying flavor

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9. Lobster

A luxurious, rich shellfish that calls for a wine with similar credentials. That means smart white Burgundy, although you could also reach happily for an oaked Bordeaux Blanc with its citrus peel, smoke and pine notes that would chime beautifully with freshly grilled lobster.

For cold lobster keep the wines similarly upmarket but consider the richly textured drive of a mature premier or grand cru Chablis. This would also be an ideal moment for the hedonistic delights of Condrieu, or indeed Champagne.


Lobster, a luxurious, rich shellfish

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10. Prawns/Shrimp

Whether you call them prawns, shrimp or gambas, these juicy pink crustaceans are a staple of seafood platters around the world. When served simply with nothing more than a squeeze of lemon, look for a bright, cleansing seaside wine to highlight that succulence. Vinho Verde, Albariño, Muscadet or Picpoul all fit the bill beautifully. 

Introduce some fried, buttery, garlicky elements and you might want to open a more assertive wine. Sauvignon Blanc has a real affinity with garlic, as do fuller flavoured rosés from around the Mediterranean – anywhere from Lebanon to the Languedoc.

Bone dry, salty Manzanilla is a perfect match for most seafood, but also takes strong flavours such as garlic in its stride.



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