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By Jeff Stearns | STAFF
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Of wine and fish
By Geoff Bland

Most people, when asked what wine will go with fish, will say white; if pushed further, most Americans will say Chardonnay. While the answer may be reasonable, it is seldom the best choice out there. Just as all fish are not equal, neither are all white wines. A little more know-ledge will often lead to a better choice of wine to pair with the fish you are serving.

Let's begin with shellfish such as mussels or clams. These briny mollusks call for a crisp, vibrant white with good acidity. Look for a French Muscadet from the western end of the Loire Valley, near where it meets the Atlantic. Be sure to look for a wine aged "sur lie," meaning on the dead yeast cells from the fermentation. This aging adds extra depth. A 2007 Clos la Fine Muscadet is excellent at $12. Another great choice is a 2007 Orballo Albarino, $19. From Galicia in northwest Spain, this is another area where shellfish are abundant, and these wines are a perfect accompaniment.

The oyster is a mollusk of a different stripe. It benefits from a crisp Chardonnay with bright acidity and no oak aging. Try the vibrant 2006 Domaine de la Meuliere Chablis, $19. The vivid acidity and underlying minerality pair perfectly with oysters. If you prefer California, the 2006 Domaine Chandon Unoaked Chardonnay, $25, is an excellent choice; full bodied and refreshing, it is first class.

Milder white fish such as sea bass, halibut or orange roughy pair well with a variety of white wines. Try the zippy 2007 Coopers Creek Sauvignon Blanc, $15, from New Zealand. To be more adventurous, try the incredible Vermentino from the Pala winery in Sardinia, $18. If your tastes range to Italy, the lively and complex 2006 Parusso Langhe Bianco $20, from Piedmont is an excellent choice; this latter wine also is brilliant with trout and is often served in the region with fresh trout from the nearby mountain streams.

Lobster always is considered a luxury item, and the rich, complex flavor of this crustacean demands a rich, full-bodied, creamy white. Try the 2006 Testarossa Castello Chardonnay, $33, from California; the rich, buttery style is perfect. For Francophiles, I suggest the delicious 2006 Mischief and Mayhem Meursault, $37, from Burgundy; this wine has rich fruit and excellent structure to complement the lobster.

Darker, meatier, more full-bodied fish may do well with a rich white, but they often shine with a light to medium-bodied red wine. Grilled salmon is a natural companion with a Pinot Noir from Oregon; the Oregon Pinots often have better acidity than their California cousins, and the combination of earthy aromas and bright red fruit combine seamlessly with the fish. The 2006 Cloudline Pinot Noir, $23, is superb. As we move on to even more robust fish such as tuna, red often works well again, seared tuna and a Pinot Noir from Burgundy are a match made in heaven; the 2005 Domaine St Martin Marsannay, $25, is a perfect choice, the bright fruit and notes of Asian spices pair incredibly well with the fish.

Finally, we come to more complex fish dishes such as Cioppino, this Italian fish stew showcases a variety of fish and shellfish in a spicy tomato broth. This dish overpowers most white wine but is perfect with a Sangiovese-based red from Italy. The 2006 Le Cappannelle Rosso comes from the Maremma region of Tuscany, along the Mediterranean coast; once again, it proves that wines that come from regions with proximity to great seafood are usually the best choice for your meal. Don't be afraid to branch out; your fish will thank you, and your life will be enriched. Buon appetito!

Story published Friday, March 6, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 2 )

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