The Seven Best Wine Pairings for Freshwater Fish
The Seven Best Wine Pairings for Freshwater Fish
Native to lakes and streams across north America, Europe and northern Asia, today trout have been introduced widely across the southern hemisphere too. Rainbow or brown, this species is prized both for its sporting and culinary appeal.
It’s a delicate fish, best served simply poached or grilled whole, so choose a similarly lithe white wine to match. While the Danube waters support plenty of trout, its banks are conveniently lined with hectare after hectare of Grüner Veltliner.
This variety’s crisp, savoury style – especially examples from the medium weight Federspiel classification – would not only complement the trout but sit nicely alongside the bitter green leaves, horseradish cream and buttery potatoes that make such natural companions.
This ancient species is one of few freshwater fish able to thrive in the cold waters around the Arctic Circle. For those inhabiting rather warmer climes, the char was helpfully left behind in alpine lakes at the end of the last ice age, so is well worth looking out for on menus in Savoie, Switzerland and northern Italy.
Char offers the attractive pink flesh and a slightly oily texture of salmon while retaining the delicacy of its other cousin the trout. Alpine wines aren’t just for fondue: try matching your char with a glass of Altesse, one of the finer, fuller styled grapes from this corner of the world. For maximum enjoyment pair both with a glorious mountain view.
Also known as pikeperch, a reference to two cousins, the fierce, muscular zander is prized across much of its native Europe as one of the finest flavoured freshwater fish. The walleye of North America is a close relative and offers a very similar eating experience.
Zander’s firm, flakey flesh is helpfully interspersed with relatively few bones, lending itself beautifully to a pan-fried fillet. If accompanied in classic French style by a beurre blanc then you could do far worse than pair the dish with a dry Loire Chenin Blanc. The intense, mineral wines of Savennières in particular would have the body to complement a creamy sauce, while also cutting through it with an energetic acidity to keep the palate refreshed.
This ferociously carnivorous hunter has a mixed culinary reputation, its image tarnished by accusations of muddy tasting flesh and a relentless array of fiddly bones. Remove the skin to solve the first issue, while the second can be tackled by preparing the fish as a mousse in the style of that labour-intensive Lyonnais delicacy, quenelles de brochet.
These light, soufflé textured quenelles are invariably accompanied by a rich, creamy sauce, calling for a wine with a complementary balance of grace and hedonism. Viognier, especially when grown in the northern Rhône vineyards of Condrieu, is a perfect solution. Redolent with honeysuckle and peach, the best examples balance this opulence with a dry, mineral, cleansing finish.
A fascinating offshoot of the fish family tree, freshwater eel is prized as a delicacy during several phases of its mysterious, migratory life cycle. With many eel species now critically endangered in the wild, farms have stepped into the breach to offer a product that is enthusiastically eaten everywhere from the UK and Scandinavia to China and Japan.
With its oily, creamy character, mature eel is a packed with personality and texture that lends itself especially well to smoking. The ingredient has even built up a cult following at celebrated London restaurant Quo Vadis, where smoked eel sandwich is never allowed to slip off the menu.
Any successful wine match will require similar levels of charisma so this is the perfect opportunity for Riesling to shine. The dancing purity of a gently off-dry Mosel Riesling would cut beautifully through the oiliness of the eel, but you could also opt for one of Alsace’s gloriously intense, bone dry Rieslings whose mineral edge and rich texture would make for a memorable combination.
Dismissed by some as muddy, revered by others as a nutritious treat, carp is a mainstay of Christmas feasting in many homes across central and eastern Europe. It is a favoured species to use for the traditional Jewish appetiser gefilte fish and is extensively farmed for the table in many parts of China, as devotees of Sichuan or Hubei cuisine in particular will know.
Carp’s firm flesh makes it well suited to deep-frying in breadcrumbs, in which case Hungarian Furmint could be a fine partner. Not only do both fish and wine share a close geographical heritage, but Furmint’s combination of rich mouthfeel with lively acidity is a savvy match for any fried fish.
Crawdads, mudbugs, rock lobster, yabby: the freshwater crayfish has picked up plenty of nicknames from enthusiastic consumers around the world. In Europe there is almost a duty to devour the invasive signal crayfish, originally introduced from the US, whose presence has had such a devastating effect on the native white-clawed species. Fortunately it is no hardship to eat these diminutive cousins of the lobster and they can be prepared in much the same way.
Freshly caught crayfish grilled on a barbecue and served with homemade aioli is a truly mouth-watering proposition. Smart white Burgundy might be the go-to for lobster, but with this alfresco setting and garlicky accompaniment there’s a tempting argument for high quality rosé. Avoid anything too delicate: this decadent dish calls for Bandol’s Mourvèdre-dominant, more structured school of rosé. Your summer simply won’t get any better than this.
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