If you’ve been pairing white wine with salmon, we’ve got a surprise for you! We think salmon can stand up to a red wine—Pinot Noir!
If you’re anything like me, salmon is on your plate more often than any other variety of seafood. Whether it’s roasted, seared, or grilled, it makes for an easy and feel-good weeknight meal.
But what should you drink with it? The traditional rule of white wine with fish is probably what comes to mind, but salmon is meatier in flavor and texture than other fish like cod and tilapia, which makes it somewhat of an outlier.
With that in mind, I think your best bet with salmon is Pinot Noir—and here’s why.
WHITE WINE IS NOT THE BEST CHOICE FOR SALMON
The reason white wine is a classic pairing with seafood is that it’s generally lighter-bodied than red wine, so it doesn’t overpower the fish. Also, just like the common practice of squeezing lemon juice over your freshly cooked seafood, higher acidity in white wine tends to compliment it.
But pink-hued fillets like salmon, while still relatively mild in flavor, are buttery, rich-tasting, and have a more pronounced “fishiness” than extra-mild fish like tilapia, flounder, or sole. Salmon is also a firmer, meatier fish, with a moist and tender texture, rather than a delicately flaky one.
Both of these factors mean salmon can break with tradition and pair with a red wine instead of a white one.
PAIR SALMON WITH PINOT NOIR!
Since salmon is bolder in flavor and texture, it actually stands up well to red wine! The type of red wine is key, though: A big, heavy-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon will indeed overpower salmon, but a light-bodied red will not.
That’s why Pinot Noir is such a perfect fit! It has more acidity than most other red wines to complement the fish and cut through its richness. Plus, its fruity, earthy notes work well with salmon’s buttery, extra-savory flavor.
WHAT KINDS OF PINOT NOIR TO PAIR WITH SALMON
Do all kinds of Pinor Noir pair well with all kinds of salmon? Yes and no.
As a whole, Pinot Noir pairs well with just about every kind of cooked salmon, regardless of the variety or how it’s prepared. It works well with smoked salmon, too—be it hot smoked or cold smoked (aka lox).
What’s important to keep in mind, however, is just how wide-ranging bottles of Pinot Noir are, and how certain bottles pair better with certain preparations or types of salmon than others.
- Farmed salmon tends to be lighter in flavor than wild salmon, so a bottle of Pinot Noir that’s more delicate in style is best. Look to regions with cooler climates, like Oregon, France, and Germany for this style.
- Wild salmon pairs nicely with Pinots that come from warmer climates and lean more toward medium-bodied, such as bottles from California and Australia.
- Smoked salmon is a nice complement to a Pinot Noir that’s more earthy than fruity. You’ll find a good selection of this style from France and even northern Italy, where they’re called Pinot Nero.
Various sauces and spices also play a roll. A cream sauce is better with a lighter-bodied Pinot while a tomato-based sauce is nice with a fuller, more fruit-forward bottle. Similarly, the bolder the spices you sprinkle on your salmon, the more well-suited a bolder Pinot Noir is.
At the end of the day, though, there’s no need to get too flustered about picking out the perfect bottle. Pick up a bottle or two at your local wine shop that sparks your interest and just have fun experimenting! Even if it’s not that absolute perfect match, I can assure you it will be a pretty great one.
5 Great (and Affordable!) Pinot Noirs to Try
- Josh Cellars Pinot Noir, California, $12.97
- Rainstorm Pinot Noir, Oregon, $14.99
- Rickshaw Pinot Noir, California, $16.99
- Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir, Australia, $18.99
- Louis Jadot Bourgogne Pinot Noir, France, $19.99
SALMON RECIPES TO MAKE NOW
- Grilled Salmon with Cucumber Mango Salsa
- Easy Grilled Salmon
- Slow Roasted Salmon with Sweet Chili Glaze
- Easy Salmon Foil Packets with Vegetables
- Sheet Pan Salmon with Broccoli and Miso Butter
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Sheela Prakash is a food and wine writer, recipe developer, and cookbook author, whose first cookbook, Mediterranean Every Day, will be released this September. Her writing and recipes can be found in numerous online and print publications, including Kitchn, Epicurious, Food52, Serious Eats, Tasting Table, The Splendid Table, Culture Cheese Magazine, Clean Plates, and Slow Food USA.
Sheela received her master's degree from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy, holds Level 2 and Level 3 Awards in Wines from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), graduated from New York University's Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, and is also a Registered Dietitian.
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