This is my favorite time of the Christmas season. The shopping frenzy has settled down and the focus directs back to the most important parts of the holiday… family, food and wine! My family goes all in on the Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner, and as of late we use a lot of different seafood styles throughout the meal. One year there was even a crab cake app that made the cut. But that is the beauty of this fish feast, there are no steadfast rules of what you HAVE to cook which gives the chef a true sense of freedom and creativity.
So to give an exact wine pairing for the feast is difficult, as there are literally dozens to hundreds of different ways to prepare each of type of seafood. It is more about the consistency and texture of the fish and the sauces. For example, an appetizer of raw oysters and clams will covet a far different wine than clams casino or fried oysters. Below are some easy and general wine pairings for various styles of seafood that you may serve for your seven fishes feast, along with some specific wine recommendations.
The general rule of thumb is the lighter the dish, the lighter the wine. Pinot Grigio is probably the most popular light white wine for this part of the meal, but quite frankly unless it is REALLY good, it’s a little too neutral. But if PG is your go to, try and grab one from the Collio region…Fiegl always makes a solid offering. But I prefer Sancerre for this paring. The flinty minerality in these high acid, citrus fruit based wines seem to bring out all the lively flavors and freshness in any chilled seafood dish. Durand’s Reserve is a wonderful expression of Loire Sauvignon Blanc and at around $20-25 a good deal. The Pascal Jolivet is also a solid option and is usually under $20 a bottle.
For dishes like baked cod or seared scallops, you still want to keep it light but with a bit more body than your typical PG or SB. Albarino can work quite well as these wines still exude that crisp acidity but have a bit more body and structure. Chablis is a solid option too, as these typically unoaked wines made from Chardonnay have all the endearing qualities we love about Chard, but without the oak influence. Simmonet-Febvre is always tasty and usually can be found for around $20 a bottle.
If your fish is getting fried, you’re gonna have to step up to some bigger whites like those Burgundies or California Chards, and here is when you can start getting into the reds. The thicker and heavier the batter, the bolder you can go on the wine. Lighter Chianti Classicos and Pinot can work for a delicate sautéed dish, but if you are going with the deep fryer don’t be afraid to pull out a Zin or Syrah, especially if you are cooking up something with a little spice in it. The Mullineux Syrah from Swartland, S.A. is a fantastic option, not just for this meal but for ANY meal! It’s around $30 a bottle which may not be cheap, but drinks like something twice the price.
SEAFOOD WITH PASTA:
For openers, make sure you use the same color wine as you do for the sauce. For white sauce dishes, like linguine with white clam sauce, you can still use the same PG or SB as you served for the raw/chilled seafood. But I like to step up the Italian white game for these dishes and go with a quality Soave (made from the Gargenega grape) or even a Fiano d’Avellino. Pieropan makes a phenomenal Soave and even at $30 it is a screaming value, while Feudi di San Gregorio produces a lovely Fiano for under $20.
Red sauce = red wine… preferably something a little high on the acid scale. Tomato sauce is high in acid so you want a wine that can match up to it allowing the food and wine choice to complement one another. My mom makes a mean shrimp and calamari fra diavolo which is always a Christmas tradition for our feast. I love to pair this up with a quality Chianti Classico Riserva or Barolo… both of which can cost a pretty penny. Monsanto CCR for around $20-25 is pretty tough to beat, but the Marchese Antinori CCR for $40-50 may be my all-time favorite… particularly the 2007 vintage.
This is also a sauce driven pairing in terms white or red wine, but because this type of seafood can be quite meaty and weighted you can go red for both sauce options. Personally, I prefer an oaky, buttery Chard with a broiled fish and white wine or butter based sauce. But it can’t be over the top in terms of oak aging (as many of the Cali Chards are) as I like the acidity and fruit to stay in balance. Fox Run in the Finger Lakes makes a stellar Reserve Chard for under $20, and I simply love the Domaine Ferret Pouilly Fuisse. It may carry a somewhat hefty $40 price tag, but is flat out tasty juice.
If your seafood finds itself swimming in a sea of marina sauce, you can stick with the same red options from the pasta course. However, here is where you can get into some of the bigger reds as lobster and king crab can hold up to the weight of those dishes. A Super Tuscan or Brunello would be the traditional big red pairings, but if you have been dying to break open one of your aged Bordeaux or Napa Cab gems… this is the time to do it!
The best paring advice I can give is to pair up a special wine with those family members that will truly enjoy it. One of the greatest qualities of wine is its ability to play a part in creating wonderful, long lasting memories. So what better holiday than Christmas Eve to pop the cork on something special you have been saving and share it with loved ones to enjoy together. And that’s my PSA for the Holiday Season… Cheers!