Wine and Seafood Pairing

“Next time you order crispy calamari, try pairing with a glass of Cava or a domestic sparkling wine – Carmel’s Private Collection N.V or the Gamla Brut would be a good place to start…” Yonatan Sternberg pairs wines with seafood at Hasukah Halevana in Tel Aviv.

Pairing wine with fish or seafood can be a rather daunting task. Yes, like most people, I too agree that white wines are usually the right choice – but which ones? What to serve when preparing seafood or fish in heavy sauces like piquant curries or tomato based sauces? Perhaps a light – medium bodied red or rose style wine will work better in this case. Do you serve the same wine with grilled shrimp that you would with deep fried beer battered shrimp?

In an attempt to provide answers to some of these questions, I was recently invited to pair wines with various seafood dishes at Tel Aviv’s Hasukah Halevana. Previously located in Jaffa the restaurant relocated to the Tel Aviv port some 4 years ago and offers a wide variety of fish dishes, seafood, imported lobsters from Canada and a few meat dishes as well.

Every meal at Hasukah Halevana begins an assortment of colorful home made Mediterranean mezes - humus, cauliflower and tahina, olives, turshi- Tunisian squash salad, fennel salad, a couple of types of eggplant and many more. While the mezes ranged from alright to excellent, with all of these different flavors and spices I was having trouble choosing a suitable wine and decided to stick with a small bottle of San Pellegrino.

When the starters arrived, I was beginning to feel the heat – will my suggestions complement the different dishes? We sampled vine leaves filled with sweet crab meat, fried halumi cheese and the special of the day - fish egg roll with sweet and piquant onion marmalade. The vine leaves and "egg roll" were both quite tasty and would go very well with the Gamla, Riesling, (off-dry) 2009 from the Golan Heights Winery. Serve chilled, this is a light and refreshing wine offering a variety of white flowers, tropical fruit and citrus like aromas.

By the way if you’re a fan of Asian style or spicy seafood dishes Pelter’s, Gewürztraminer, (dry) 2009 or Binyamina's, Gewürztraminer (off-dry), 2009 will do the trick. The latter is showing aromas of lychees, red grapefruit, honeysuckle and spices, all leading to a pleasant though slightly acidic finish.

The seafood platter brought to the table was more than generous and included deep fried shrimp and calamari, mussels and shrimp in butter and white wine sauce and baked crab with olive oil and fresh herbs.

Sparkling wine usually goes very well with fried and battered seafood, as the bubbles cut through the weight of the dish and cleanse the palate between bites. Next time you order crispy calamari, try pairing with a glass of Cava or a domestic sparkling wine (Carmel’s Private Collection N.V or the Gamla Brut would be a good place to start). With the baked crab, I would go for a nice Chardonnay or Viognier wine. Dalton’s Viognier 2008 is a good and not to pricey option. In my opinion, the recently launched Recanati, Special Reserve, White, 2008 would also go well with the dish. This is an interesting and aromatic blend of Chardonnay, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc.

A second entree was brought to the table featuring two lightly seasoned grilled fillets of sea bass (levrak) and a baked potato. I often find that Sauvignon Blanc goes particularly well with baked or grilled white fish dishes. Try the recently launched and very affordable Gamla, Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 or the Sauvignon Blanc from the Yatir Winery.

As we were getting ready for dessert (crème brulee and apple cake), owner Ovadia Saba, joined us at the table. Saba comes from a long line of fisherman and grew up eating fish practically on a daily basis. “My parents would sell fish all week and save up some money so we could have meat on the weekend. Some of the dishes prepared at the restaurant are similar to the ones my mother prepared 50 years ago”. Saba is also very proud of Israeli wines. In his opinion they are among the best in the world. “Every time I present a European tourist with a glass of Gamla or Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon they are genuinely impressed by the quality of the wines and usually ask for a refill”, he says.

When it comes to food and wine pairing, there really is no right or wrong, at the end of the day, it’s all a matter of personal taste. Nevertheless, certain wines really help bring out the flavors of the dish (and vise versa) providing a well rounded and interesting culinary experience.