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John Wilson: It does not need to be all white on the night if you are having fish for dinner

How to Drink Better: In general, white wines pair best with fish but in some cases a red that’s light in tannins can be a great match

Q: Should I always drink white wine with fish?

A: There are good reasons for drinking white wine with fish. Most seafood is quite delicate in flavour and a little bland. For that reason, we eat it with vinegar in a chip shop, tartare sauce or lemon in bistros and beurre blanc in posher restaurants. The acidity brings the fish to life, accentuating the flavours. White wine has more acidity than red and acts in the same way. In addition, red wines with tannin tend to clash horribly with fish, making both taste far worse. Lighter red wines such as Beaujolais, Loire Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir in particular have lighter tannins and higher acidity. As a result they can go very well with richer, oily fish such as salmon or tuna, or more full-bodied seafood like monkfish.

There are, however, many different fish and many different ways to cook them, so blanket advice is not really helpful. I find it helps to think about how much flavour the fish has – and the accompanying sauce too. Full-flavoured fish and strong sauces need something equally powerful; light, delicate seafood call for something more subtle.

Below are a few suggestions to match some of the most popular seafood recipes. If you cannot be bothered researching, you will not go wrong with light to medium white wines, such as Sauvignon Blanc, unoaked Chardonnay, Albariño and Grüner Veltliner.

Plaice and other flat fish

Fried or grilled plaice, dab or lemon sole is a great midweek supper. Served simply with a squeeze of lemon, try a lighter dry unoaked white wine such as a dry Riesling, Muscadet, Picpoul de Pinet, Pinot Grigio or a less aromatic Sauvignon from Touraine, Sancerre or Bordeaux. This also goes for raw fish.


Oysters, mussels and clams

With a bowl of moules marinière or linguine with clams, try a lighter white such as Muscadet or Soave. With oysters go for Chablis or a really good Champagne.

Hake, cod and turbot

The Spanish love hake, and so do I. It is one of the most underrated fish: meaty and full of flavour, superior to cod, as far as I am concerned, and great with wine too. For a great easy supper, I bake it in parchment with a nob of butter, herbs, tomatoes and lemon for 20 minutes. Include some beans, broccoli or sugar snaps and dinner is almost done. A South African Chenin Blanc, medium-bodied Chardonnay or Southern Rhône white will go perfectly with hake, cod, monkfish and turbot.

Thai prawns and other herby, spicy Asian fish recipes

With all sorts of herby, lightly spicy seafood, go for a New World Sauvignon Blanc, an off-dry Riesling, Grüner Veltliner or Albariño.

Fish and chips

Perfect with a glass of fizz. Open up a bottle of Crémant, Cava, New World sparkling, or champagne if you are feeling flush.

Grilled black sole, lobster and scallops

If you can afford these, go for broke and buy a nice bottle of rich white Burgundy or other oaked Chardonnay.

Seared rare tuna and salmon, especially with a herby crust

If you do not like white wine, this is the time to bring out your red wines. Pinot Noir and other light reds such as Cabernet Franc from the Loire or Beaujolais go very well with oily fish.


The Portuguese love grilled sardines and would drink a glass or two of Vinho Verde alongside. It cuts through the oiliness of the sardines perfectly.

Fish pie

One of my favourite winter fish dishes is a creamy fish pie: a white fish and prawns in a rich white sauce packed with parsley and possibly some hard-boiled egg, all topped with some buttery mash. With this I would go for a Viognier, Chardonnay or Southern Rhône white.

Lastly, a glass of well-chilled Fino Sherry is perfect with all kinds of seafood, crab and crispy deep-fried fish in particular.

Next week: Should we always drink red wine with beef?