The Best Wine with Salmon Pairings

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The best wine pairings can truly transform a meal–and that’s true everywhere, like the picturesque Nita Lake Lodge, a luxurious hotel and spa nestled in the lesser-known city of Whistler, British Columbia. Fresh salmon poke is served alongside signature wines and stunning views.

Rated in the top ten of luxury hotels in Canada by Tripadvisor, Nita Lake Lodge offers customers massages, a full spa, restaurants and lakeside dining. As if that were not enough to make the lodge an attractive getaway, James Oldberg, executive chef, just recently introduced a wine pairings dinner series so guests can savor their meals to the full extent.

Partnering with the Culmina Family Estates Winery, now the signature wine pairing dinner series serves up fine cuisine with wine expertly paired. Perhaps one of the most elegant of their offerings is fresh salmon paired with Culmina’s Saignée 2017. The wine’s prominent sage and strawberry flavors complement the richness of the salmon for a signature experience.

Of course, you don’t need to book a stay at a luxury spa resort in order to enjoy the finest wine with salmon pairings. In this article, we’ll guide you towards finding the best wine pairings for salmon, no matter where you’re planning to enjoy your meal.

What does it mean to pair wine with food?

Pairing wine with food is a way to enjoy both wine and signature dishes to their fullest extent by enhancing and complementing flavors. Wine especially is meant to not merely be consumed alone, but alongside or after a meal. Doing so will help you enjoy and even bring out flavor notes as much as possible.

One thing to clear up before we continue: of course, wine pairings are not the same thing as cooking with wine. Cooking with wine helps flavors to develop as food heats, and is meant to directly permeate or top dishes, whether it’s in the form of marinades, side sauces, or other toppings. When we’re looking for the best pairings, we’re looking at what wine is the best drunk alongside a type of food.

Wine pairing is simply a way to enhance certain flavors. In fact, wine pairing has been a practice in many cultures and is constantly adapting to new trends and techniques. Texture, flavor notes, aroma, and wine variety are all taken into account when pairing food with wine. So too are other features of wine, such as finish, in conjunction with the food being served.

Wine pairings, of course, are not limited to dishes like salmon. Sweet, dessert wines are often paired with fruit, frozen treats, and baked goods.

For our purposes, we’ll be looking at wine pairings with salmon, and how different properties in wine directly complement the very best flavors salmon has to offer.

What are the main elements of wine pairing?

Wine pairing is predicated on six main elements, and it’s all about balancing each one–acid, fat, bitterness, salt, sweetness, and alcohol levels. There are several ways to go with this, however, depending on how you’re preparing your salmon.

As a fatty fish, salmon does well with stronger wine combinations. Leaner meats and fish tend to favor wine that is a little lower in alcohol, less acidic, and less bitter, but with salmon’s rich and naturally occurring fats, you can get by with, and maybe might even prefer a wine that is more acidic, a bit more bitter, and higher in alcoholic content.

Salmon aside, the idea to pair wine and food in a way that creates a balance but also an emphasis on a certain flavor experience. Examples of pairings that work include:

Acidic wine with acidic foods; with salmon, this would work if you use a citrus glaze, although salmon in of itself is not considered acidic.

Salty and sweet. This pairing is not typically used with salmon, but it marries salty foods with sweet wine. An example is Riesling with Thai food.

Bitterness and fat or acid and fat. Both of these combinations work for salmon, because of the richness of the Omega 3’s that naturally occur in salmon, hence with a more bitter and acidic wine works well.

The method of preparation greatly impacts what wine you’ll select. We’ll go into more detail as to common ways salmon is prepared, and what to select, below.

What characteristics of salmon itself come into play when searching but the best wine pairings?

When trying to find the best wine pairings for salmon, we should also look at the naturally occurring characteristics of salmon itself. While it does depend somewhat on the method of preparation, the best salmon is naturally vibrant but mild, and able to complement a variety of side dishes, ingredients and flavors.

Most salmon is naturally rich and slightly flaky, with a soft to medium-firm texture. Very soft salmons, like Atlantic salmon, feel light in your mouth, though not as delicate as some other fish.

Sockeye salmon, meanwhile, is deeper in hue and is more dense and juicer than other salmon varieties. It is richer overall and more suited to the driest wines.

What different ways can I prepare salmon?

Since your method of preparation will impact what wine pairings are best for the salmon you’re serving, let’s go over just a few ways you might want to prepare your salmon. These are all methods of cooking or serving salmon but do not include to a full extent finishing sauces and glazes.

  • Pan-frying: If you enjoy a crispy exterior, pan-frying salmon is a popular option for salmon filets. It’s also an easy and quick way to develop a simple flavor that focuses on the salmon itself. Add just a touch of butter or olive oil to a pan on medium-high heat for about five to six-minute per side. Just a little salt and pepper is a simple way to season, but pan-fried salmon is also great for fish tacos and with Asian or sweet glazes.
  • Roasted: Roasting salmon develops flavor in just twelve to fifteen minutes at around four hundred and fifty degrees on a baking sheet and pairs well with dill, dijon mustard, and lemon pepper.
  • Broiled: For one of the quickest options, you can also broil salmon. This works best with either seasoned or cedar plank salmon and takes under five minutes for a simple but versatile option. It works both with citrus and even sweeter glazes.
  • Grilled: For a classic summer flavor grilled salmon can be a great and fresh option, especially if you like a smokier flavor. Brush salmon with a little olive oil and grill about five minutes on each side.
  • Poached: Poaching is a less common method for preparing salmon in a way that mimics pan-frying, but without any additional oils or fats. Water, instead of oil, is used and lightly seasoned; this method takes a little over two minutes on average.
  • Baked: Baked salmon can be cooked in either parchment or foil and needs moisture like citrus to keep it from drying as it cooks, for about twelve to fifteen minutes at four hundred degrees Fahrenheit.

What should I look for when trying to select the best wine pairings with salmon?

While we’ve already mentioned a few of them, let’s take a closer look at what main factors experts consider when recommending the best wine pairings:

  • Tannins. Tannins are a naturally occurring compound in wine that you can also find in wood, other plants, bark, and of course fruit skins. Also known technically as polyphenols, tannins create a drying feeling in your mouth as you drink and become sticky if cooked. Tannins are more prominent in red wines, though there are red wines that are high in tannins, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Sirah, while lower tannin red wines include Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. When it comes to salmon and even other fish, we want a lower level of tannins.
  • Finish. Finish refers to the lingering flavors, and how long they linger after you sip your wine. A longer or shorter finish
  • Dry or sweet? When it comes to the best pairings with salmon, you’ll want to go for a dry to a semi-dry wine. A semi-dry wine might be a better option if you want to complement your salmon with a sweet glaze that incorporates, for instance, brown sugar or some other sweetener. Otherwise, a dry wine complements the rich savory notes of salmon.
  • Full or light body? Full bodied wines produce a full, rich feeling in your mouth. With salmon, go for a full body white wine or medium body red wine to play up the naturally occurring richness and savory notes in salmon.
  • Aging. Barrel aged wines tend to be more robust and potent in flavor, making them not suitable for all food pairings. Most salmon dishes, however, can stand up to the richer flavors, so if it’s your preference, a barrel aged wine will pair with a salmon dish just fine.
  • Red or white? For salmon, unlike some other fish, you can actually go with either white or red wine. The trick is to select a wine that is low in tannins. But what you select depends on the method of preparation. Even rose wine works well with salmon, making it among the most versatile foods when it comes to wine pairings. The lighter nature of fish, combined with the naturally occurring fats, make it so.
  • Flavor notes. The primary flavor notes need to complement or even mirror some of the flavor notes in the dish. This part is actually arguably the most subjective: you may prefer different flavors with your salmon than others do. In general, however, here are a few ways you can go, depending on what flavor notes in salmon you wish to emphasize:
    • For sweet, look for flavor notes like maple syrup, orange, or another sweet citrus with candied notes
    • For salty, look for flavor notes like earthy olives, and unexpected pops of spices
    • For sour, select a dry wine that is heavy on citrus flavors
    • For a smoky finish, consider a wine that has smoky flavor undertones making use of spices like paprika, chile, and cumin
    • For a fresh taste, play up the best of salmon’s flavors by selecting a wine that incorporates fresh herbaceous notes with a pop of citrus.
  • Method of preparation.

The method of preparation, as we’ve already stated, does also make a difference when trying to select the best wine pairings for salmon.

    • Smoked or grilled salmon should be paired with a wine that contains acidity that can hold up to the smoky flavors and enhance them; a certain brightness to the wine, though is also helpful for lifting what can be heavier flavors. Acidic wines with bright citrus notes work, and may even favor sparkling wines.
    • Pan fried salmon has a crispy exterior that should be celebrated. Sparkling red or fuller white wines work better with this slightly heavier and firmer version of salmon, like a full-bodied and dry wine.
    • Sweet. If you plan on adding a sweet or sweet and salty glaze to your baked or poached salmon, reach for a rose or even a dry Riesling. Both both have enough lift to help enhance the sweeter glaze but also pair the sweeter and saltier elements of the glazed salmon.
    • Creamy. Baked salmon also works with cream based sauces. Creamy sauces, like dill cream, bearnaise sauce, or and even creamy garlic butter can feel heavy and need some lift. A good wine pairing includes a classic dry white wine that has simple flavors that do not feel too heavy, with an emphasis on acidity and citrus flavor notes.
    • Sashimi. Sashimi, raw and or sushi grade salmon is a different experience entirely, with a wet, slightly more chewy texture and brighter flavor. For more raw based salmon, a sparkling dry white wine is a good option.
    • Other methods. If you plan on incorporating water or other liquids to cook salmon, such as soups or stews, a wine with nutty undertones may be helpful and can even bring together the flavor of the fish with more earthy vegetables.

I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. Can you summarize the ideal wine pairing for salmon?

Selecting the best wine and salmon pairings can be a bit complex because not only is salmon versatile, but it can also be prepared in multiple ways which will affect what wine you end up selecting. So here’s a brief summary, and some general rules to follow:

  • A dry wine normally is preferable to sweet wines for salmon, though a semi-dry wine is acceptable if you’re using a sweet glaze.
  • White, red and even rose wines work but what you select depends on the method of preparation, and the wine should be low in tannins and fairly acidic.
  • Sparkling wines give a lift to heavier preparation for methods, just as smoked salmon or salmon prepared with cream sauces.
  • In most cases, a full-bodied to medium bodied wine is preferable over light bodied wines.
  • Barrel aged wines can add an impactful punch of flavor and enrich the already naturally occurring fats and fresh flavors in salmon.
  • No matter what wine you pair your salmon with, consider what flavors you want to enhance. That will depend upon your method of preference as well as your personal preference for certain flavors.

Can you recommend any wine with salmon pairings for me?

Keeping in mind different properties of salmon, different methods of preparation, and flavor development, here are some wine with salmon pairings you might consider:

  1. For smoked or grilled salmon, consider Bisol Jeio Prosecco DOC Brut. The classic prosecco from Italy is acidic, pulling out the rich flavors of the salmon but also lifting the heavier smoky flavors. The sparkling wine adds a celebratory note to a summer grill out and features citrus accents with touches of salt that perfectly complements a smoky finish.
  2. For pan-fried salmon with crispy skin, try something like Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco di Sorbara Vecchia Modena, a sparkling red wine from Italy the features brighter notes of acidity with a lighter touch of strawberries, tangerine, and just a touch of ginger for a complex but not heavy accent.
  3. If you’re preparing salmon with a cream sauce, try a wine like Tenuta Polvaro Pinot Grigio (2017), which is a dry wine with a smooth finish and enough structure to at once complement, but add a textured layer to a creamy dish. Citrus and floral notes lighten the full body wine making this, and Pinot Grigio in general, a rich, but not overwhelming wine and salmon pairing.
  4. For a glazed salmon, Chateau Ste. Michelle 2017 is a dry Riesling from Washington with ripe citrus notes that pairs well with the sweeter and more savory notes of a glazed salmon.
  5. For sushi grade salmon or sashimi, dry white wine with a touch of carbonation works, as does a classic dry white wine that blends fruity flavors with just a touch of spice, like this Decoy Sonoma Chardonnay, 2017. The spice is especially well paired if you’re surviving sushi grade salmon with a side of wasabi.
  6. For simply baked or poached salmon, a classic dry red wine with medium body and high acidity Louis Martini Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 is an excellent pick. Enjoying salmon for salmon, a medium body red wine with higher levels of acidity but also a smooth, fruity finish is a great option.

If I had to choose one no-fail kind of wine for a pairing with salmon, what would it be?

As you can see, the best wine with salmon pairings are highly variable and depend on a number of key factors. That said, if you prepare salmon in a simple way, such as baked, broiled or poached with just a touch of simple seasonings, go for a medium body or full body white wine that is acidic, has citrus notes, and a lingering finish. The wine we mentioned above is great for a classic and highly versatile option.

Further read:

Erin Jamieson

Erin Jamieson brings the latest information to you on wine flavors and types so you can enjoy your next glass to the fullest. In the past, she covered wine selections for weddings and engagement parties. She also previously worked with a private chef company to suggest the perfect wine pairings and believes there is a flavor for every occasion. Erin Jamieson holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Miami University of Ohio.

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