Drinking white wines with seafood and white meat, while sipping reds when red meat is on the table is an example of a classic food and wine pairing rule. There is some logic in that long-held principle: Seafoods are normally lighter than red meat, so they call for lighter wines, and lighter wines tend to be white rather than red. But the choices among light reds have increased dramatically over the years, increasing the chances of their compatibility with chicken and fish.
Those looking to tradition for some guidance in choosing the right wine might consider the popular choices in the restaurants of New Orleans from the 1850s to the 1950s, when France and Germany were by far the world's foremost producers. To serve with their elegant French-Creole fish and shellfish dishes, restaurateurs stocked white wines with a certain complexity, and low levels of oak and tannins (the astringent qualities produced by grape skins and seeds). A tinge of sweetness was expected, along with a consistent balance of fruit and acidity.
Also favored were wines big and assertive enough to stand up to robust Creole seasonings, yet
not too overpowering in relation to the food's flavors. Then as now, fish and shellfish dishes were paired with wines that have the acidity seafood often needs, which is why a squirt of lemon juice goes so well with many seafoods. (Among the obvious exceptions here would be a dish sauced with an ingredient high in acid, such as tomatoes.)
Long before the wines of California and other regions appeared on the scene, these were the wines often paired with seafood in New Orleans:
Today's imbibers are presented with much wider choices when it comes to seafood and wine pairings.
Among the whites widely considered compatible with fish or shellfish are:
Among red wines, those often recommended for seafood pairings are the light- to medium-bodied wines, such as:
A note on beer: Your favorite beer -- especially if it's a lighter beer -- should not be ruled out as an accompaniment to the spicier New Orleans-style seafood dishes, especially boiled crawfish, shrimp or crabs, and fried shrimp, soft-shell crab or fish. Once your flavor buds have been hit with hot spices, they require simply flavored brews with low levels of malt and hops. Examples are golden or blond ale, American wheat ale and lightly hopped lagers.
In the end, who can dictate what constitutes a good seafood and wine (or beer) pairing? If it works for you, it works.
*Adapted excerpt from Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook.
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