Ask Eno: Why can’t I drink red wine with fish?

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Dear Eno,

As someone who almost exclusively drinks red wine, why am I not supposed to pair red wine with fish?

– Pat


Dear Pat,

The old saying suggests very simply that red meat goes with red wine and therefore fish goes with white wine. You might be relieved to hear that in reality that’s a pretty oversimplified rule.  

One motivation behind this no-red-with-fish concept is simply because in the wine world neither food nor wine should conquer the other. Since lots of fish dishes are on the delicate side, a big heavy red wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon would simply overpower a delicate fish meal.  

Another motivation for avoiding some red wines with fish has to do with the reactions between the natural compounds in red wines (namely iron and tannins) and the fish itself. The more naturally tannic or iron-rich a red wine is, the more it emphasizes the “fishy” taste of fish. The natural oils in some fish can also create a sort of unpleasant metallic taste when combined with red wine tannins.  

As a side note, the natural umami of sake actually has the opposite effect than tannins in these respects, effectively de-emphasizing the “fishy” character in fish.  This is one reason why sushi and sake work so well together.

All that said, there are definitely red wines that work with seafood:

* Pinot Noir from Alsace, Burgundy, Austria, or New Zealand

* Rosé Wines – Typically low in tannin and iron but high in refreshing acidity

* Grenache wines like “Cannonau” from Sardinia, Garnacha in Spain, or Grenache-heavy blends from southern France.

* Frappato wines from Sicily, including “Cerasuolo di Vittoria”

* Gamay wines from France

* Schiava, also known as Trollinger, from northern Italy

* Cinsault based wines/blends, generally from southern France

Bon Appétit! 

Aubrie Talarico is part of Eno’s team that answers your toughest questions or curiosities about wine, beer, spirits, sake, and cider. Email questions to and read the answers in Eno’s E-newsletter!

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