The 10 Best Wine Pairings for Saltwater Fish

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1. Mackerel

The beautiful tiger stripes are suitable attire for this fierce species, which hunts and migrates in large schools across both cold and tropical seas. Mackerel is an oily fish so look for a bright, racy wine to cut through. The lively spritz of northern Spain’s Vinho Verde would be suitably bracing, as would the crispness of a Portuguese Alvarinho.

Mackerel 

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2. Hake

This delicate, sweet flavoured white fish is particularly prized in northern Spain so it makes sense to look here for your wine match too. If the hake is simply grilled then look no further than an Albariño from Rias Baixas.

Typically softer and peachier than the Portuguese version, Albariño has a saline finish that is perfect with seafood. But the Spanish also love to use stronger flavours such as garlic and chorizo, and their approach to hake is no exception. In this case the richer, smokier elements on your plate call for the oak influence of a traditional white Rioja. Fino sherry would also be a mouth-watering combination.

Hake

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3. Tuna

One of the only fish to actively cry out for red wine, tuna is surely at its tastiest, not to mention most visually appealing, when served lightly seared and gloriously pink. A juicy red, perhaps lightly chilled, would play perfectly with this meaty fish.

Sicily has a proud tradition of tuna dishes and the bright cherry fruit of the island’s Nero d’Avola, especially an example from high quality regions such as Cerasuolo di Vittoria or Etna, would be a glorious match.

There are plenty of other young, perky reds that would perform well here too: consider Loire Cabernet Franc, Beaujolais, Austrian Zweigelt or one of the fruitier styles of Pinot Noir that the New World does so well.

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Tuna

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4. Cod

With its firm textured, gleaming white flesh, cod lends itself to a wide variety of dishes and bold accompaniments, opening up a host of wine options. Cooked most simply, this is a fish that invites medium bodied whites with a bit of verve, so Chablis, Grüner Veltliner or a Douro white would all fit the bill.

In the Douro itself you’re more likely to encounter cod as bacalão, one of several forms of salt cod enjoyed around the world. That saline tang calls for a zippy Vinho Verde, a similarly salty fino sherry or perhaps a lick of smoky oak from traditional white Rioja. Yet another famous cod dish sees it coated in crispy batter, an approach which calls for the fat-scything flair of young Champagne.

Or look across the Channel for some English sparkling wine to accompany what is, after all, a very English dish. Red wines can definitely work well with cod too, especially when the fish is wrapped in cured ham or served with earthy lentils. In that case try a bright Rioja Joven or savoury Mencía from north-west Spain.

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Cod fillets 

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5. Kingklip

South Africa’s exceptional restaurants alone are worth the airfare, and one of the most popular fish on the menu is kingklip. Part of the eel family, kingklip tastes not dissimilar to hake with its white, sweet flesh. It makes perfect sense to drink a South African white here.

The country’s high-quality Chardonnays are an obvious choice but you could do even better by opening a local Semillon, either single variety or partnering Sauvignon Blanc in a classic Bordeaux blend. The lively, limey character coupled with rounded texture is just made for food, especially seafood.

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Kingklip

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6. Monkfish

Tasting considerably better than its ugly features suggest, monkfish is a meaty species not dissimilar to lobster in both flavour and texture. If cooked simply with perhaps a lemony sauce then choose a consummate fish wine such as Albariño. However, monkfish lends itself well to bold flavours and cooking techniques, from curry to the Provençal stew bouillabaisse.

A full flavoured rosé, either from Bandol or Navarra, would work well with garlic or spices, as would a charismatic white Rhône blend. If you prefer to wrap your monkfish in cured ham and roast it, then the dial shifts more decisively towards red wine, ideally a light, bright Cabernet Franc or cru Beaujolais such as Fleurie.

Monkfish

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7. Sardines

These small, oily fish travel in large shoals and lend themselves to being simply grilled in generous quantities as part of a convivial feast. Look for the raciest dry white you can find: a spritzy Vinho Verde, Basque Txakoli or Santorini Assyrtiko would all hit the spot.

In Portugal they might reach for a similarly racy red version of Vinho Verde, although this is rarely found abroad. A dry, reasonably robust Mediterranean rosé would also hit the mark, especially if you’re on the beach.

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Sardines

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10. Skate

Don’t be put off by the intimidating bone structure of this fish, so closely resembling a stingray. Once cooked, the meaty flesh slides off far more easily than for many fine-boned species, while the bones add a satisfyingly gelatinous substance not found in more delicate fish. The classic presentation of skate is hard to beat: fried with a sauce of brown butter and capers.

Any wine will need a reasonable amount of body to match both fish and sauce: try an Alsace Pinot Blanc or take this opportunity to explore one of the serious, weightier wines being made these days by more ambitious Muscadet producers.

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Skate

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8. Turbot

A real treat, this large flat fish is usually saved for special occasions so demands a similarly luxurious wine. It’s time to crack open the finest white Burgundy in your cellar. Failing that, rootle around for another rich, dry white. Top end Chardonnay from California, New Zealand or Australia would fit, while serious white Rhône blends are too often overlooked but can also be suitably majestic.

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Turbot

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9. Sea bass

This delicately flavoured fish calls for a wine of similar purity. Simply grilled in a seaside restaurant, it is the stuff of glorious holiday nostalgia. Depending on your preferred corner of the Mediterranean for such escapism, this sea bass fantasy will almost certainly be linked to a whistle clean Assyrtiko or more gently refreshing Vermentino – known as Rolle in France.

Sea bass also lends itself well to gentle steaming with oriental flavours such as lemongrass, ginger or soy. Such a fragrant approach calls for an aromatic wine partner and Riesling is the perfect candidate. Seek out a lime-scented expression from Clare Valley or a dry yet richly ripe Pfalz example.

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Sea bass

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Skate

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