In this week’s edition of the ScienceNow Daily News, (full story, here) it was reported that Japanese researchers have discovered why fish and red wine so often clash. Turns out there are minute traces of iron in some red wines, particularly those grown in soils high in certain minerals, and that these trace elements can leave you with a very unpleasant “fishy” aftertaste. And I don’t mean the clean fish smell of the ocean, but more like the day-after fish smell of the trash bin.
The research also seems to answer why some red wines can actually compliment seafood and fish, while others make you run for the motion sickness bag. The researchers identified an “iron threshold” of 2 miligrams per liter. Any red wine containing more than this amount spoils the seafood pairing.
Scallops, perhaps the most notorious offender when it comes to foul red wine pairings, were used to test this theory further. When dried scallops were soaked in wine whose iron content was below the threshold smelled fine, but those soaked in wine with iron above the critical 2 mg/L, smelled horrible. Note, I’ve observed the same phenomenon when fresh scallops are rinsed using iron-rich water. Now I know why!
But I agree with Gordon Burns, the enologist who argued that the more compelling reason to avoid red wine with fish is that most red wines are big-bodied wines that over-power the lighter, delicate flavors of most seafood. And that violates one of my key guidelines for food and wine pairing:
- Match high acidity in the food with high-acid wines
- Match sweet foods with equal or higher sweetness in the wine
- Pair light dishes with lighter wines, heavier dishes with heavier wines
- If the wine is high in fruit and alcohol, leave it on the cocktail bar when you go to the dinner table!
Others, such as Tim Hanni, M.W., suggest that simply adding a pinch of salt and a squeeze of citrus to your fish dish will make it surprisingly compatible with your red wine. And still others, such as David Rosengarten, in his famous book (right) simply focuses on finding lighter red wines that can compliment fish and seafood prepared with red wine-friendly recipes. Of course, his book was written in 1989, when it was easier to FIND a lighter red wine, i.e., lower in alcohol (average then was just 12.5%) and body.
By contrast, today’s contemporary styles for wine often dictate alcohol levels in excess of 14.5% along with “gobs and gobs of ripe fruit”. If red wine with fish is your culinary preference, I’d seek the lighter reds of Burgundy, Beaujolais, Northern Italy, the Loire and other cool-weather growing areas.
Seek out such wine, and I think you’ll be finding Nemo never tasted so good.
Quote of the Day
“Fish, to taste good, fish must swim three times. First in water, then in butter, and then in wine!” ~Old Proverb