Tom S. responds to “tannic red wines with fish and shellfish”


Tom S. is a passionate wine lover, a great customer, and one of my very good wine-loving friends here in Omaha. Tom submitted the below letter to me via e-mail, commenting on a previous post where I expressed my views on tannic red wine with fish. Our “comment on this post” feature only allows for 256 characters, so I’ve decided to post his letter here. Tom makes some excellent points and I thought you might enjoy reading what he has to say. I’ll follow up with my response in an upcoming post but he’s spot on with his observation that a “properly aged” tannic red wine becomes much more seafood friendly. I should clarify that when I described “powerful, tannic red wines and fish” as a “food and wine pairing disaster”, it would have been more accurate to say “young” in the place of “powerful”.

Please read on:

Dear Jesse,

I am sorry to have missed your after-hours dinner for the Boiler Room staff.  The social disappointment was reinforced with a culinary disappointment after reading about Bucatini all’Amatriciana on your blog—it sounds like the kind of pasta dish I really like.

On another note on your blog: just a small observation about the tannic red wine and fish issue.  There are of course many great red wine and fish combinations.  Burgundy (even a young red Burg, if the tannins are not too much) is wonderful for many salmon preparations (only smoked salmon, in my experience, is absolutely resistant to reds and even most whites—demanding an acidic white like a Pouilly-Fume).  But, even in reference to your specific point, I think even the most fiercely tannic reds can potentially go well with fish if properly aged.  I first encountered this with a very simple recipe suggested by Richard Olney for the “Southern Bordeaux” section of his “Vineyard Lunches” regional French cookbook [in my small library, this along with Phillipe Faure-Brac’s “Saveurs Complices des Vins et des Mets” are my favorite books on wine and food], namely grilled seafood (scallops and a rich white fleshed fish) brochettes with some slices of pancetta on the kabob between the fish pieces served with a well-aged Graves.  The combination is sometimes sublime: the sweetness of the seafood and the pork contrast with earthiness of the wine, but sometimes I find that this brings out the fruit in the wine without any of the cloying effects of the tannins kicking in.  A fully aged Barolo also works just fine with seafood.  When he was in town last, Michael Solway and I both had fish entrees with the 61 Borgogno and the combination was also inspiring—the wine acting almost as a kind of herbal and flavor addition that fully complemented, in my case, the white bass.  Of course, I agree with you that young tannic wines can be terrible with fish and the principle is important to understand, but I tend to dislike young tannic red wines with anything or nothing (I find it hard to drink Cabernet or red Bordeaux as an aperitif).

I like the blog, and just wanted to dialog with you on this issue based on some of my experience in exploring red wines with seafood.

Again, thanks for the blog.

Hope to see you soon.



posted on July 22 2009 by jesse

Comment on this post

Tom, We've increased the comment length to 1024 characters so I'll reply here. You're spot-on in your observation that tannic red wine becomes more seafood friendly when properly aged. The caveat is that all food and wine pairings fall somewhere between disaster and magical, and I'm not convinced we could ever get scallops to be magical with an aged red Bordeaux. Is it a pairing that works? Yes, but is it magical? I've never tried the pairing you mentioned, but it sounds as though it might achieve magical status with a wood-aged white Bordeaux, like an '01 Domaine de Chevalier. I'm hesitant to say that the '78 de Chevalier red would be even better. I was always in awe of Charlie Trotter's ability to tailor dishes in the middle of service to become more amenable to our guests' wine choices. Still, only the food or the wine can be the star, and I wonder if by "fixin' up" a food so that it "works" with a particular wine, do we really allow that food or wine to shine as brightly as it could?
Posted by jesse on 07/23 at 03:18 PM
My experience is the same as yours. When I've visited tasting rooms, sometimes we're told that a wine is so 'big' that it actually tastes better the next day. But it never seems to be true unless the wine is full-bodied, with noticeable tannin and pretty high alcohol. Dining Chair
Posted by julianna aston on 08/14 at 03:19 PM
I'm not always convinced of the "let it breathe all day" philosophy either. In fact, I've had better results with whites (Coulée de Serrant, for example) than I have with reds. Of course decanting prior to serving makes most young reds more expressive and we usually want to decant older reds off of their sediment. One of the best reasons to decant young red wine is to help blow off reduction. I'm skeptical of red wines that are so big (most of which are manufactured to be so) that they require extended decanting to be at their best. Do wines really need to be that big in the first place?
Posted by jesse on 08/16 at 03:04 PM
Yeah....... your experience on wine is really worth reading. To utter surprise, you and me on the same track as I love very much to take tannic red wine with the seafood.
Posted by Dinnerware on 09/03 at 02:25 AM






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