What wine goes well with seafood?

What wine goes well with seafood? a client wanted to know.

It all depends on type and preparation. Here are a few ideas on pairing the bounties of ocean and vineyard:

Less is more. One of the great things about seafood is its endless variety, and its preparation can be equally diverse and fun to experiment with. Being a northern Italian by heritage, I inherited the love of grilling seafood with liberal amounts of lemon and brushings of delicate choices of good, Tuscan oil. I usually bring to the table a dry Italian white, such as a pinot grigio or Veneto Soave; if I go local, I'll choose a viognier, or a pinot gris from just about anywhere in Oregon.

I try to limit the alcohol level to less than 13 percent if possible, because higher alcohol offerings can interfere with the taste sensations of delicate seafood. This is particularly true with light freshwater fish such as trout.

If you are grilling with some savor-heat such as curry or other heat-induced spices, however, you can look for something with a higher alcohol level or with some wood force, such as a big chardonnay.

Red sauce, red wine. As a kid, I went back and forth to Italy and found that many Italian seafood and shellfish dishes included tomato sauces with garlic and oregano. The introduction of tomato, garlic, oregano, bay leaf and cumin changes the playing field. Yes, a crispy, cut-through-the-tastes white wine might do, but the above-mentioned condiments and tomato cry out for red wine.

Interestingly enough, the few times I have had cioppino in America, white wine was the only choice offered to me, just the opposite of what one finds in Italy or in Italian communities in the United States. Here, we favor traditional white with poultry and seafood and red with heavier fare.

It has been my contention that it is not so much what is being served, but how the cuisine is being prepared. This is true with poultry in rich sauces, tomato or otherwise, as well as seafood.

The trick with red wine and seafood is not to go too fruity. Dry, yes, fruity, no. By "fruity," I mean Beaujolais-type wines, which are driven by fruit in the nose. It is my feeling that the Pop-Tart types of funky nose and tastes we sometimes get in overripe wines, such as high-alcohol zinfandels or whole-berry fermented reds, are a distraction to seafood and shellfish, regardless of the preparation.

The perfect red wine for, let's say, cioppino has got to be the Piemontese barbera. When made well, it has the deepness of complexity and seriousness of body needed to cut into the heavy sauces but allow the delicacy of seafood and shellfish to shine. Every time I have had barbera with spicy preparations of seafood, the dinner has been beautifully balanced. Years ago I attended a seafood gala in Turin where many of the dishes were tomato-based, and barbera was seen virtually on every table.

Oil, not butter. I love cooking with oil of just about any type. I am a traditionalist with seafood and use Tuscan oil applied with a brush, but lemon-infused oils also can be pretty nice. The alternative, of course, is to squeeze lemon or lime on the seafood along with the oil. Some folks say they feel they have more control over the cooking by adding lemon squeeze rather than the infused oils.

Butter has a different feel and requires a richer wine, either in the red or white categories. Butter is used more in northern Italy, oil more in the south, but times are changing.

If you use butter, unless it is "sweet" butter, there will be a higher salt content, which requires a crisper white wine offering.

Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at razz49@aol.com.

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