Salmon and wine

For being such a versatile fish, you’d think coming up with the perfect wine to pair with salmon would be easy, but it’s actually this versatility that can make it a challenge. What wines pair best with grilled salmon? What wine should be served with lemon-crusted salmon? Are you having dinner with salmon and a crisp green vegetable like asparagus, or pairing wine with smoked salmon and cream cheese for a weekend brunch?

With a nearly limitless array of cooking methods and flavor profiles, it’s often not as simple as choosing between a red or a white. 

Focusing on a few tried and true preparations, we're taking the guesswork out of it to help find your perfect wine for pairing with salmon.

Smoked Salmon Pairings

If you’re planning to indulge in a classic dish like Lox (commonly served on a bagel with tangy cream cheese, salty capers, onions, and tomatoes), your salmon wine pairing might look a lot different than that of someone twirling noodles on a plate of creamy smoked salmon carbonara. Considering every element of flavor you’re presenting is the first step in determining how to find an exceptional pairing.

For Lox, brut Champagne is an easy answer here. With its palate-refreshing acidity, complimentary minerality, and bakery aromas it has long reigned as the champion of puzzling food and wine dilemmas--just ask fried chicken. While we’re partial to the real stuff, like this Billecart-Salmon, the good news is you can find traditional method sparkling wine in nearly any price range. You’d have a hard time doing better than the Gruet Blanc de Blanc, made right here in the United States.

If you’re stuck on what to do with your eggy pasta dish, you’ll want something with enough body to hold its own against the pasta and acidity to cut through the fat. Italian whites make a great choice, with Gavi being a standout. Think of it as a supercharged Pinot Grigio, with notes of honeysuckle, peach, and melon, wrapped around a nutty core.

Herb/Citrus Salmon

Whether making a sheet pan dinner of baked salmon encased in bread crumbs seasoned with parmesan and lemon zest, or drizzling your fish with a buttery pan sauce infused with dill and lemon juice, there are several great choices to get you through your meal without feeling even a moment’s regret.

As with all things buttery, there’s no harm in reaching for a Chardonnay with a little oak influence. It really compliments the fatty salmon and anchors the rest of the dish. Similar in body but without the oak, a big, tropical Viognier offering flavors of tangerine and nutmeg might be exactly what you’re looking for.

Likewise, Sauvignon Blanc makes a natural partner with dill and just about anything green, being itself known for delighting palates with robust lime and green apple flavors, giving way to its famed grassy herbaceousness.

Seared Salmon Pairings

When searing salmon to develop that trademark crispy skin, you might find yourself flashing back to the summertime while you were tending the grill, or perhaps using a ripping hot cast iron pan to achieve the perfect crust on a steak. If all of that’s got you craving a nice red wine, you’re in luck, because this meaty and savory preparation is perfect for light to medium-bodied reds with mild tannins.

Because bigger reds have higher concentrations of tannins (the perfectly natural but occasionally unflatteringly bitter compounds that occur in certain plant tissues), you’ll want to leave the Cabernet Sauvignon in the cellar. Medium-bodied, cherry-scented Pinot Noir with salmon is an old favorite, and sure to please, though special consideration should be given to its Burgundian soil-mate, Gamay. This grape varietal is commonly sold as Beajoulais, the famed region of France where it originates. These wines are known for being fairly straightforward, fruit-driven wines, though better producers emphasize floral and earthy notes. Beaujolais has been described as “young Valpolicella” and the prized Italian red, full of tart berry flavors elevated by the suggestion of coffee and chocolate, would excite even the pickiest food and wine critic.

Raw Salmon (Sushi)

If it’s sushi you’re craving, we’ve got you covered there, too. When you aren’t trying to tie a half dozen or so flavors together in one cohesive dish, it’s important to let the individual components do the talking, and you don’t want one voice to be louder than another. With that in mind, think light and delicate, just like the salmon and rice you’ll be noshing.

For this salmon wine pairing, we could bring back some of the earlier hits, Gavi and Sauvignon Blanc coming immediately to mind, but this is also a great time to open your heart to a nice, dry Riesling. Supremely crisp and refreshing, each sip practically begs for another piece of nigiri. 

Hailing from Austria, Gruner Veltliner may not seem like the obvious choice, but consider giving this dry white a shot. Think of it like Sauvignon Blanc in sunglasses, similarly green and herbaceous, but with a confident swagger that only comes from spending a year studying abroad. With an extra white pepper and celery note, Gruners have often felt like they were made for sushi.

Final Thoughts

Armed with this knowledge, you should now have the confidence to guarantee you’re never again stumped when considering which wine to pair with salmon, no matter the situation or recipe. Crammed into a bagel, seared, or straight from the dock onto a pile of rice, we hope you give some of these suggestions a try soon. Of course, we know how quickly things can change in the kitchen, so if you find yourself needing a second opinion on your salmon or wine, we hope you won’t hesitate to come to see us soon.