Choosing the appropriate bottle of wine for a salmon dinner can make the difference between an ill fit pairing that ruins the dish, and a harmonious balance between wine and fish that elevates both to new levels.
Salmon is a heavier fish, full of delicious fats and healthy oils that can steamroll certain types of wine in a pairing. While each preparation of fish will lend itself to different types of wine, there are four “staple wines” that should always be kept in mind when picking what wine goes with salmon.
What Wine Goes With Salmon? The Best Options
White wine is the first thing that comes to mind when many people envision a salmon and wine pairing. When it comes to pairing white wine and salmon, there is no better grape to reach for than Chardonnay. Oaked or unoaked, there is a style for every salmon dish imaginable.
The full, rich body of Chardonnay pairs perfectly with the heavy fats and oils associated with salmon.
Many lighter varieties of white wine will either shrink or disappear entirely on the palate in the face of a rich fish like salmon, especially in heavier preparations.
Oaked Chardonnay offers an extra deep level of a full and creamy body to the grape, as malolactic fermentation occurs when aging Chardonnay in oak. This process works to “soften” the tannins that are present in the wines by interacting with the tannins in the oak.
The result of oaking Chardonnay is an extremely creamy, buttery flavor with a full body and extended length of finish.
California Chardonnays are especially known for these “buttery” and “creamy” characteristics, as they use American oak which has a heavy-handed effect on the wine.
While oaked Chardonnay works best for full-bodied salmon dishes with heavy sauces, unoaked Chardonnay is a great fit for lighter preparations. This style features a medium body, with a crisper finish that is less round and creamy on the palette.
For these reasons, unoaked Chardonnay works perfectly with acid-driven salmon dishes. Grilled salmon with lemon wedges is a perfect fit for these crisper Chardonnays.
2. Pinot Noir
Many people think that fish should always be paired with white wine, while red wine should always be served with red meat.
This is far from the truth, as a light-bodied red wine will often pair far better with a salmon dish than a light-bodied white.
The best wine pairings for salmon include full-bodied white wines and light bodied red wines. When it comes to light-bodied red wines, Pinot Noir is the undisputed king, and one of the most popular styles of wine in the entire world!
The reason that Pinot Noir works so well with salmon is the fact that it delivers bright and strong flavors of red fruit while being light enough in body to not overpower the fish. This combination allows for a bright and acidic combination of bold flavors and balance.
More tannic varieties of red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Syrah will completely dry out the palate and completely overpower the refined and delicate fats in the salmon.
Less tannic and more full-bodied red wines like Merlot, Zinfandel, and Grenache will throw the palate out of balance in a different way. While the fruit flavors provided by these varieties provide great flavor, the salmon will get lost in the full bodies of these wines.
Pinot Noir is extremely popular, and will likely be on the wine menu of a restaurant serving salmon. Oftentimes, Pinot Noir will be suggested by the server when asked about pairing opinions with salmon dishes.
Champagne is an often overlooked wine pairing when it comes to salmon, as it is often an afterthought to white and red wine options.
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have been highlighted as great salmon pairings, and they make up a good portion of the Champagne cuvée
The added texture of the delicate Champagne bubbles brings an extra layer of complexity to the rich and fatty salmon. This makes it an especially great pairing with smoked salmon appetizers and is a common pairing with salmon dishes in brunch settings.
The bright and crisp finish of Champagne plays perfectly with tangy and acidic lemon-based salmon preparations, and the bold flavors stand up to the fish without stealing the show.
Kate Miller-Wilson worked for years in fine dining before transitioning to writing blogs, and she highlights the pairing of Champagne and salmon on her wine blog.
Sommeliers around the world are quick to reach for a bottle of Champagne, especially at brunch or lunchtime.
Rosé offers a unique combination of fruit flavor and dryness, allowing for a tart and bitter fruit flavor while maintaining a light and bright body.
This offers the best of both worlds in terms of the body of a white wine, with the full fruit flavors of red wine.
Brut is the best style of Rosé for salmon pairing, as its low residual sugar content allows the flavors to shine through without overpowering the fish with sweetness.
The light-bodied texture and hints of red fruit like raspberry and cherry are a perfect complement to the fish.
Poached salmon is one of the best preparations for serving with a chilled glass of Rosé, as it maintains a delicate and flaky body while maintaining all of the deep richness that comes from the oils and healthy fats.