Yes, young Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine pairing on the tasting menu at Blue by Eric Ripert.
This surprises many guests who, having heard the old maxim “red wine with meat, white wine with seafood,” assume that red wine will be sidelined since the menu’s focus is fish. However, while Champagne and white wine dominate the wine pairings at the restaurant, red wine plays an integral role.
While I am not advocating Bordeaux with oysters, here are some basic guidelines for enjoying red wine with fish.
First, keep in mind acidity, weight, complexity and tannins.
Red wines like Sangiovese (the basis for Chianti) Barbera, Dolcetto, Pinot Noir and Gamay offer high acidity and softer tannins, which allow them to cut through the richness of a dish. Think of a fish you would add a squeeze of lemon to and let the wine do that work instead. These high-acid/low-tannin wines also lessen the perception of salt, bringing out the integrity of good, simple ingredients, and they work beautifully with tart food.
Big, oaky, tannic wines like Cabernet Sauvignon blends, Nebbiolo and Malbec also have a place on the table with fatty fish and seafood like mackerel, monkfish and lobster, all of which help counterbalance the tannins.
Cooking techniques, like charring, grilling and blackening, also help big, tannic red wines pair with seafood, but watch out for adding salt — tannin will accentuate the taste of salt.
Adding sautéed onions or garlic helps make red wines “pop” with riper fruit flavours and melds the oak tannins.
The higher alcohol levels of big red wines are also accentuated by salt and spice and spicy foods do not pair well with tannin and alcohol.
For the collector, aged reds become more delicate, so serve simply prepared dishes and let the wine shine.
Keep in mind that every varietal can be crafted in different styles by the vintner, so just because one Cabernet Sauvignon pairs well with your grilled fish doesn’t mean every Cabernet Sauvignon will pair equally as well. Utilise the impressive number of wine shops for help in learning the different styles. Of course, your taste is personal and perfect to you — drinking a wine you love and enjoy is always the best pairing!
Heather Branch is the sommelier at Blue by Eric Ripert at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.