The Feast of the Seven Fishes, that Italian seafood bacchanal that arrives every Christmas, is a celebratory meal like no other. The wines you pour should match the flavors of the food as well as the spirit of the event. I recently spoke with Stevie Stacionis, who along with Josiah Baldivino, own and operate Oakland’s Bay Grape, one of the coolest and most respected wine shops in the Bay Area, about pairing red wines with fish.
That’s right, red wines. No need to limit yourself to white wines. Stacionis concurs. “The only rule is “drink what you like and eat what you like and make yourself happy,” she said.
A wine guide like Stacionis can help navigate some of the challenges of pairing with fish but here are the big three:
- Do not pick a wine with too much tannin as tannins can conflict with fish oil and make the wine taste metallic. (White wines typically don’t have tannin, which is why they are so often paired with fish dishes.)
- Pick a wine with low tannin, then consider the dish’s intensity. Look to match that intensity with the weight or fullness in a wine.
- Grilled, charred preparations or a dish with a rich sauce or something pungent like olives – look at something fuller but low in tannin, such as a new world Syrah, some merlots work well too. With lighter style fish and sauces, Pinot Noir is a natural (and this grape generally works well with anything).
Coastal and seaside wine growing regions around the world historically tended to plant varietals that pair well with seafood. (You know the old adage: What grows together, goes together.) “They have an almost saltiness that pairs well with fish,” said Stacionis.
To simplify pairing options and level the playing field for less familiar wines, the wines at Bay Grape are organized by a wine’s weight or body. This organizing principle also makes it easy for guests to branch into something new.
For the pairings suggested here, Stacionis kept in mind the adage that ‘what grows together, goes together’ while keeping in mind the sauce, spice or other influence on each dish. For dishes with classic preparations, she looked to the Old World – Italy, France, Greece – while dishes that have more pop or a newer style lend themselves to New World wines. Last but not least, Stacionis considered the potential wine drinker – do they want something a little more unique or something more accessible.
All the wines listed here are available at Bay Grape. Though this story pairs wines with each dish, Stacionis offers this advice for anyone planning a holiday meal:
“The Feast of the Seven Fishes is such a family-oriented, communal-style affair that everyone is sharing and passing dishes and helping themselves… it makes much more sense to me to select a variety of wines that can pair with all of the dishes, and let guests help themselves, experiment, and try them all with all the different dishes.”
Menu 1 – a chef’s menu
For the recipes look here
Dish 1: Clams with Oregano and Bread Crumbs
Ka Mancine Beragna Rossese di Dolceacqua – from seaside terraces along Ligurian Coast
Clos Cibonne Tibouren Rouge; super-fun, light and bright,
Retail: approx. $30
Dish 2: Marinated Fresh Anchovies
Tami Frappato IGT Sicilia – this is Sicily’s pinot noir made by a biodynamic vintner, a banging deal at $18.
Aphros Vinhao Vinho Verde – Vinho Verde refers to freshness of wine. A certain salinity to it.
Dish 3: Linguine with Clams and white wine sauce
If cooking with white wine, no need to transfer to red wine, but if you do, here are two good ones.
Sipun Sansigot Krk; From the largest of Croatia’s many islands.
Le Fraghe Bardolino; A lighter Valpolicella from a female organic producer, insane value, happy go lucky wine.
Dish 4: Spaghetti with Mussels and Tomatoes
La Sibilla Piedirosso – the Campania region has great wines that pair well with fresh tomatoes; lots of bright acidity.
Foundi Xinomavro Naoussa – this Greek red is intensely tannic until it ages and the tannins soften; the current release is 2006 and 2008; both are nice and soft, perfect.
Dish 5: Cod with Tomatoes and Capers
Ignios Origenes Listan Negro – from Tenerife on the Mediterranean’s Canary Islands – almost vegetal, grown in igneous soil.
Stoka Teran – From the Slovenian border with Italy, near the Adriatic; green pepper and olive notes to it, play off savoriness; salty.
Dish 6: Marsala Shrimp, Sicilian Style
Occhipinti SP68 Rosso – A value-driven label created a Syrah-like blend of Sapasso and Nero d’Avola.
Marco di Bartoli Pignatello Rosso di Marco – this is the best producer of high-end Marsala on Sicily, they make a fuller, softer red.
Dish 7: Eel with Olives and Chiles
Cruse Wine Co Sonoma Coast Syrah – Californian, very olivey.
Brash Higgins Nero d’Avola McLaren Vale – very Sicilian in style, planted close to the coast in south Australia.
MENU 2 – A FIRST TIMER’S MENU
For the recipes look here
Dish 1: Salmon rillettes
Mas de Gourgonnier Baux de Provence – red blend, herbaceaous, a little funk to it, soft tannins, has a littlre more meat to it to pair with the cream.
Salem Wine Co. Eola Amity Gamay – an Orgeon-grown Beaujolais, soft and ripe. Rillettes make a great picnic dish and this is a picnic wine, an easy pleasure.
Dish 2: Pan-Seared Squid and Lemony Aioli
Marcel Lapierre Morgon – lemon has lots of acidity so need a wine with acid to match, icon producer in Beaujolais, wines are so beautifully fresh.
Douloufakis Dafnios Liatiko Crete – a Greek varietal from one of its best-known islands; very soft and juicy and low in tannins.
Dish 3: Grilled Shrimp with Chile, Cilantro, and Lime
Eight Sides Zinfandel Paso Robles – the dish is intense and has lots of pop, pair with this wine which drinks like a light-bodied Zin but is low in tannin. It won’t mess with the spices.
Ochota Barrels Green Room Grenache – Australian, dewy, ripe and accessible.
Dish 4: Spaghetti with Clams
Domaine de la Pinte Arbois Rouge; from the not coastal Jura region of France but very light and savory.
Arnot-Roberts Trousseau – Sonoma, light bodied and delicate.
Dish 5: Cioppino
Istine Chianti Classico – from a female organic producer, mostly Sangiovese; a tasty and classic pairing with tomato,
Bedrock Old Vine Zinfandel, Cioppino is the ultimate California-created seafood dish; almost demands to be paired with a local wine; this one has great acidity in old vine to pair with tomatoes.
Dish 6: Trout Bruschetta with Tomato and Greens
Palmina Barbera Santa Barbara – Barbera is a lighter grape and classic with tomato-based dishes.
Vietti Barbera d’Asti – lots of great red fruit, tart acidity, very appropriate, classic pairings
Dish 7: Whole Roasted Snapper with Potatoes, Olives and Herbs
Piedrisassi Syrah Santa Barbara – this dish has big flavors and needs a “grand finale” wine; this Syrah almost has lavender notes, herbaceous.
Damijan Prelit Friuli – from a cult producer in Friuli, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend, 2010 is current release; a very sexy wine, has amazing herbal and rosemary undercurrent, great with herbs.
And, if you do want to offer a white wine or two, Stacionis suggests these as terrific options:
Do Ferreiro Albariño