Pair It: Salmon and Pinot Noir

7 02 2010
Chirashi Sushi bowl

Chirashi Sushi Bowl © Rebecca Li, 2009

This is my first post to this section (Pair It) devoted to pairing wine and food. Just so that you understand how insane I am, when I go out to a restaurant (except if it a BYO)– I do not behave the way most do. The first menu I look at is for the wine. I actually chose the wine I am in the mood for, then choose the best thing I feel will pair with it.

This post is about my most favorite pairing. My love for food is second only to my love of wine (but barely), but happily they both bring out the best in each other. Something happened to me about 18 years ago. Back in about 1992, I had just bought Joel Robuchon’s first English translated book (well before he was as popular as he is here now) and began to cook through his recipes. I had a lot of fun doing this, and each night, my mom and brother would come home to something different on the table. That year, I was experimenting with these recipes, and decided to cook a 5 corse meal in honor of my mother’s birthday (I believe it was her 45th). The main course was a salmon in a red wine shalot sauce. I had never had nor made this before, but it sounded both intriguing with options for a visually dynamic presentation. So I went for it.

The myth about fish being served only with white wine was already being debunked, and this meal changed it for me forever. Though it was more about the wine based sauce (lot’s of butter whisked in off the heat) that opened up my mind to this pairing – and happily, I have not been the same since.

These days, living in New Jersey has its benefits. The vast amounts of BYO restaurants is a boon to everyone that either collects and enjoys the benefits of pairing in advance, wants to save money by patronizing a local wine shop and not spending what are between 200 and 400% markups in restaurants with wine programs, or just knows what they want. For me, it’s all the above.

When I want sushi or better yet, sashimi, I have a clear picture in my mind both where and what I will be doing in the basement in preparation for this trip out. If I intend to go Japanese, and crave top quality, fresh out of the water salmon, I will be hunting in the racks for a Pinot Noir to create the magic that will soon follow.

In past years, I have enjoyed the 2005 Chandon Pinot Noir and found a great deal under $20 for these bottles by “going case” to receive a %20 discount. Let me say that this combination of the silky, sexy mouthful of pure and fresh velvety salmon –with it’s inherent rich fattiness that melts in your mouth – with the soft and subtle sour cherry, clove, vanilla and cola notes from the Pinot Noir create this sensation in my mouth and my brain that can only be describes as an outer body experience. When the perfect wine meets the perfect food – and reinvent the way we taste something as a whole…this is what really drives me to tell you to open your mind to some of the pairings I will talk about in this blog.

I have tried other Pinot Noir pairings since, some have been a bit overripe and the fruit a bit too much which throws off the balance and suppleness of the fish. I will explain in my next post – that with patience and the right conditions, we can store the wine and put some age on it so that that fruit (and sometimes high alcohol levels) may fade back to allow the pairing to work at it’s best.

Note, Pinot Noir not only  loves raw salmon, but grilled as well. I have enjoyed some Oregon based Pinot Noir with my cedar plank grilled salmon at home. Bergstrom, Chehalem, Ponzi and Adelsheim come to mind, but those can be on the pricey side from $25 to $65 USD. Pessagno from the Central Coast (CA) was just rated 94 points from Wine Enthusiast, and at around $25 USD, a steal. For more budget conscious, try the Cambria Julias Vineyard at under $20 USD. Australia has some values with Innocent Bystander 2008 achieving high marks for its strawberry/raspberry notes and a lingering trail of minerality. For around $15.00 USD, a steal. Castle Rock is the lowest price with best value at under $12.00, but with Pinot, it is a typically expensive varietal as it is a hard grape to work with and costs more to create (but worth it).

The other thing I love with salmon (raw) is sparkling wines. When you are having especially fatty Salmon or even Toro, the acidity cuts the fattiness of the salmon and really works to refresh your mouth and palette. But that post is for another time.

Question for all of you out there, have you had salmon (cooked or not) with Pinot Noir and if so, what was the dish and the wine – and your overall impressions of this pairing.

Thanks for reading and participating, as always!

Many thanks to Ray Chan and Rebecca Li for these excellent images! Good Friends and great foodies with a love for great wine too! Keep them coming!

Steve from the Trellis

© Tales From the Trellis 2010

Salmon Roe Sushi © Ray Chan, 2009




6 responses

8 02 2010

Great post. I’m a big fan of Salmon, and recently enjoyed it with some Pinot Noir for the first time. I was pleasantly surprised. I looking forward to trying some of your suggestions and to more great posts and pairings! Love the blog, Steve. Excellent idea!

8 02 2010

I don’t trust (any more) Wine Enthusiast, but I know that I can trust you, Steve. Thanks for the suggestions, especially the budget conscious ones. I am glad that you got off your you-know-what and added something really great to the blogosphere.

8 02 2010

Thanks Marta, much appreciated! I am dedicated to it and hope to see you chime in as well! Look for my article on wine storage tomorrow and one on sparkling wines for Valentines Day (and every day!). Thanks for your kind words and support!

15 02 2010
Lisa Nielsen

Okay, sold! I will order pinot noir the next time I go out for salmon sushi or…drink it at home the next time I stay in. Wish I read this a couple hours ago before I ordered wine from the local store. Only asked for Shiraz, Cab Sauv, and Malbec. Any sushi suggestions for those?

15 02 2010

Lisa, some of these varietals will be difficult to pair with sushi and sashimi, as the idea is matching the delicate texture and flavors or raw fish and some of these are not very subtle. Imagine that these pair well with beef…and what they would do to some of the wonderful texture and delicate flavors of raw fish. I enjoy sparkling wines, pinot noir and various sauvignon blancs with my raw fish. Try and let us know what you think! Cheers, Steve from the Trellis.

16 02 2010

Lisa, one other thing, be careful with the use of wasabi, as it will tend to overpower the flavors of both the wine and the fish. Also, soy sauce, use sparingly for the same reason. Nobu pours cabernet, so there are some nice pairing as along as there is not too much oak. Perhaps a bordeaux style that is not too over the top. Get some take out and try with all of those you listed and let us know your thoughts! Where was your shiraz from- Australia?
Steve from the Trellis

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