Wine and fish

What wine should be selected for fish?

For many of us, the answer is very simple: only white wine goes with fish. But it is not quite that simple. Save for a few exceptions, the basic flavour of fish is weak and neutral, with a slight, sweet aftertaste. Therefore fish is prepared with base materials, spices and sauces which have more aroma and flavour.

The spices, the aromatic base materials, the multitude of ways of preparation, and the sauces served completely alter the naturally mild flavour of the fish. Thus, when selecting wines, we must take into account:
- the method of preparation, the cooking or frying methods and
- the effect of spices, the more aromatic base materials and sauces that modify the flavours.

Consequently, the choice of wines may range widely. Most wine types from fresh, soft white wines to full-bodied red wines rich in tannic acid may achieve the appropriate flavour effects.

Raw fish
If we eat fish in the Japanese style (sashimi), the most important requirement is to preserve the natural and fresh taste of the fish. The mild and fine flavours and aromas of the fish should not be destroyed by highly acidic and full-bodied wines. The ideal choice is a fresh white wine with fine acids.
Cooked fish served cold, cold fish salad
It is the seasoning, the sauce and the fish salad that decides the choice of wine. If the sauce is neutral and we want to preserve the characteristic flavours the fish as much as possible, we should choose a fresh white wine with fine acids that is similar to the fish. If, on the other hand, the dominant flavour is the type of sauce and the composition of the fish salad, the best choice is a more acidic full-bodied white wine.
Smoked fish
We should not choose young, lively white wines with hard acids for smoked fish. Acids may become even harder and metallic as a result of the smoky flavour. We may choose a dry, full-bodied white wine with harmonic acids for smoked fish. On the other hand, a slightly smoky, tannic acid taste may achieve a positive effect: consuming white wines seasoned in new oak barrels with smoked fish may result in very pleasant flavours.
Steamed fish
If we steam fresh fish with a little seasoning, the ideal companions are soft, fragrant and fresh white wines. Fish steamed whole (or whole fried fish) is more flavoursome because of the skin and the fat layer beneath it. Depending on the seasoning and spicing, we may offer more full-bodied white wines richer in acids with a steamed fish.
Fish soup (`halászlé')
Fish soup is a harmony of the scents and flavours of paprika, onions, salt and fish, so it calls for more fullbodied white wines with firm acids and spicy red wines not too rich in tannic acid.
Fish stew
The wines that accompany `halászlé' work fine here as well. Fish stew made of more fatty fish (eel, catfish) takes red wines with more tannic acid very well, too. The fat reduces the bitter taste of the tannic acids. For fish stew with `túrós csusza' (boiled leaf pasta with cottage cheese) (especially sturgeon stew with `túrós csusza' Mohács style) the most appropriate companion is a dry, full-bodied white wine with resolute acids, and young, spicy red wine.
Fried or baked fish
Fish dishes prepared by frying include two masterpieces of Hungarian cuisine: `Dorozsmai Molnár Ponty" (Miller's Carp Dorozsma Style) and `Rácz Ponty' (Carp `Serbian' Style). The decisive factor is seasoning and the effect of the accompanying base materials. Full-bodied white wines with resolute acids and, round, velvety and harmonic red wines suit these dishes very well.
Fish in breadcrumbs
The fish is deep-fried in hot fat or oil, so this is one of the greasiest ways to prepare fish. In addition to fiery white wines with resolute acids, characteristic red wines rich in tannic acid also work well with the flavours of fried fish.
Grilled and skewered fish
If the fish is prepared dry, without fat and with little seasoning, more fullbodied, white wines with harmonic acids are excellent choices.
(Róbert Gyula Cey-Bert: Harmony in Hungarian food and wine)