Seafood picnic

Pairing the right wine with your seafood dishes elevates both, creating an outstanding culinary experience. But seafood's delicate flavors and textures demand a thoughtful approach when selecting a complementary wine. Choosing a wine that overpowers or clashes with seafood flavors is all too easy.

In this guide, we explore the principles of seafood wine pairing and provide recommendations for matching various types of seafood with the perfect wine.

Understanding Seafood Flavors

Seafood varies widely in flavor and texture, from the light and flaky flesh of white fish to the rich oiliness of some shellfish. Understanding these differences is crucial for effective wine pairing.

The primary categories of seafood include:

  • Shellfish like shrimp, crab, and oysters
  • White fish such as cod and tilapia 
  • Oily fish like salmon and mackerel

Each category pairs better with different types of wine. 

Broadly speaking, shellfish have delicate, sweet flavors that pair well with crisp white wines. White fish also have mild flavors but can stand up to slightly fuller-bodied whites. Oily fish, on the other hand, can handle more robust wine pairings due to their richer taste and texture.

The Basics of Seafood Wine Pairing

The fundamental principle of wine pairing is balance; neither element should overpower the other. The goal is a harmonious combination in which the flavors of the wine and dish are complementary, allowing each component to shine.


The wine's weight or richness should match the seafood dish's weight. Lighter seafood dishes, such as raw oysters or delicate white fish, pair well with crisp, light-bodied wines like Muscadet or Pinot Grigio. More substantial seafood dishes, like grilled salmon or lobster bisque, can handle fuller-bodied wines like oaked Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.


Acidity in wine cuts through the richness of some seafood dishes and refreshes the palate. High-acid wines like Sauvignon Blanc or Champagne are excellent for oily fish or seafood dishes with creamy sauces.

Flavor Profile

Take into account the main flavors present in both the wine and the seafood dish. Wines with citrus, mineral, or herbaceous notes often pair well with the delicate flavors of seafood. For example, the grassy, citrusy notes of Sauvignon Blanc complement the flavors of oysters or shrimp, while the earthy, red fruit flavors of Pinot Noir pair nicely with the richness of salmon.

Cooking Method

The way the seafood is prepared can also influence the wine pairing. Grilled or smoked seafood dishes may pair better with wines with a touch of oak or smokiness, like Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. Lighter cooking methods like poaching or steaming call for lighter, more delicate wines.

Sauces and Seasonings

Any sauces or seasonings used in the seafood dish can significantly impact the wine pairing. A dish with a creamy sauce may call for a fuller-bodied white wine, while a tomato-based sauce might pair better with a light-bodied red. Spicy seasonings can be balanced by a slightly sweet wine, like an off-dry Riesling.

When in doubt, remember that the most important rule of wine pairing is to drink what you enjoy. While these guidelines can help you make informed choices, personal preference should always be the ultimate deciding factor. 

Pairing Wine with Shellfish

Opt for crisp, light-bodied white wines that won’t overpower the delicate flavors when pairing wine with shellfish. Some excellent choices include:

  • Muscadet: This dry, light-bodied white from the Loire Valley in France has a crisp acidity and mineral notes that pair beautifully with oysters and other raw shellfish.
  • Pinot Grigio: A light body and citrusy flavors make Pinot Grigio a versatile choice for shellfish dishes, particularly shrimp or scallops.
  • Chablis: This unoaked Chardonnay from Burgundy has acidity and a mineral character that complements the sweetness of crab and lobster.

Sparkling wines like Champagne or Cava are also excellent choices for shellfish, as the bubbles and acidity can cut through the richness of dishes like lobster or crab.

Pairing Wine with White Fish

White fish like cod, halibut, and tilapia have mild, flaky flesh that pairs well with light to medium-bodied white wines. Consider these options:

  • Sauvignon Blanc: Sauvignon Blanc's herbal, grassy notes and high acidity pair well with simply prepared white fish dishes.
  • Pinot Gris: This light-bodied white has a rich texture and stone fruit flavors that can stand up to slightly heartier fish dishes.
  • Albariño: Hailing from the Rías Baixas region of Spain, Albariño has a crisp acidity, citrus notes, and a hint of salinity that makes it an ideal match for white fish.

When white fish is served with creamy sauces, a richer Chardonnay or Viognier can be a good choice to match the weight of the dish.

Pairing Wine with Oily Fish

Oily fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel have a richer flavor and texture that can handle more full-bodied wines, including lighter-bodied reds. Some excellent pairings include:

  • Pinot Noir: The earthy, red fruit flavors and soft tannins of Pinot Noir complement the richness of salmon and tuna.
  • Grenache: This medium-bodied red has a spicy, fruity character that pairs well with heartier fish dishes, particularly those with tomato-based sauces.
  • Rosé: Dry rosé wines combine white wine’s acidity and red wine’s fruitiness, making them a versatile choice for oily fish. They’re particularly good with grilled or smoked preparations.

Full-bodied white wines like oaked Chardonnay or Viognier can also work well with oily fish, particularly when served with buttery or creamy sauces.

Seafood and Red Wine

While white wine is often the go-to choice for seafood, certain red wines can also make excellent pairings. The key is to choose lighter-bodied reds with low tannins and high acidity. In addition to Pinot Noir, options to consider include:

  • Beaujolais: This light-bodied red from the Gamay grape has a refreshing acidity and red fruit notes that pair well with salmon, tuna, and even some shellfish.
  • Barbera: This Italian red has high acidity and low tannins, making it a good match for tomato-based seafood dishes like cioppino or seafood pasta.
  • Grenache: Grenache (or Garnacha in Spain) can vary in body but often features light to medium-bodied versions that exhibit high acidity and soft tannins. Its spicy and berry-fruit flavors pair well with seafood dishes that include robust flavors or spice.

Unconventional Seafood Wine Pairings

While traditional wine pairings provide a good starting point, don’t hesitate to try unusual pairings. A unique combination can lead to a delightful surprise, enhancing the flavors of both the wine and the seafood in unexpected ways.

For example, try pairing a spicy tuna roll with an off-dry Riesling, the sweetness of which can balance the dish's heat. Or, match a rich, buttery lobster dish with a full-bodied red like Syrah or Zinfandel for a decadent combination.

The key is approaching wine pairing with an open mind and a willingness to try new things. By understanding the basic principles and experimenting with different combinations, you’ll develop a sense of what works best for your palate.