Wine & Fresh Florida Seafood Pairings
By Laura Fagan Published July 2022
Whether you're visiting Florida for fun in the sun or you're a permanent resident, the Sunshine State is the premier destination for tourism, theme parks, tropical vacations and fishing. The state is a large peninsula bordered by the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean and the Florida Straits. This one-of-a-kind continental geography offers thousands of miles of coastline with a variety of fish, mollusk and crustacean species. The year-round fishing weather and the productive Gulf Stream make fresh seafood readily available across the state. In short – Florida is an angler's paradise.
What better way to enjoy the spoils of your latest fishing trip than with a perfect wine pairing from ABC Fine Wine & Spirits? Not sure which varietal or style to pair with your favorite fillet or shells? Not to worry. Our wine experts, Nathan Dale and Paul Quaglini, are eager to walk (or swim) you through their favorite Florida seafood and wine pairings, as well as share labels that make great matches across the board.
Pairing Wine and Seafood
Fresh seafood is recognized as a global cuisine that delivers healthy fats, delicate flavors and nutrient-rich protein. In Florida, we have access to an abundance of fresh seafood. Like any other protein, you should consider the taste, texture, and accompanying flavors of your fish when you are deciding which wine to serve alongside the plate.
In general, you will want to pair seafood with an acidic wine, Paul suggests. The acid serves to help cut the fat content and round out the flavors of the fish. Nathan recommends pairing to the preparation method and secondary ingredients.
“A lot of times, what you are actually pairing is what you are cooking the seafood in or with rather than the seafood itself,” Nathan says.
With infinite options for sauces, seasonings and supplemental flavors, pairing the right wine can feel a bit overwhelming. Keep reading for Nathan and Paul’s breakdown of what labels pair best with specific seafood dishes.
Shrimp are a crustacean found in coastal seafloors and are extremely plentiful in Florida’s waters. These delicious decapods can range widely in size and flavor characteristics. In Florida, you are likely to find and enjoy White shrimp, Gulf Brown shrimp, Rock shrimp, and the most popular - Gulf Pink shrimp. Shrimp are akin to a culinary canvas, as they tend to take on the flavors imparted by the preparation.
Nathan suggests pairing shrimp with Surrau Limizzani Vermantino di Gallura.
“It really matches shrimp perfectly and, depending on how you sauté them, it almost doesn’t matter because Vermantino is your answer,” Nathan says.
This dry Italian white leads with orchard fruits while the salinity and weight make it a universal pick for shrimp.
Northern and southern quahogs are the native clam varieties harvested throughout Florida. They have a firm texture along with a sweet and slightly salty flavor. These clams are most often steamed or sauteed with garlic, lemon, and other flavors until their shells open and the meat turns opaque. A large bowl of garlicky, steamed clams is a spectacular dish.
“I love to use Champagne as a food pairing when I have a buttery dish,” Paul says. “Not only do you have great acidity, but you have the palate-cleansing effervescence from the Champagne.”
Paul’s go-to label is Haton Brut Classic Champagne which is lively, bright and boasts layered flavors to perfectly accompany freshly steamed clams.
Grouper is a Florida favorite for both anglers and chefs. This large, bottom-dwelling fish puts up a fantastic fight on the line and brings premium flavors to the plate. Throughout the state, you will find grouper on almost every coastal menu with hefty market prices. The fish is sought-after as the southern halibut with its firm and flaky texture and mild flavors. Florida is home to over a dozen species of grouper, including the Goliath and the Black, each with their own regulated seasons or limits. When it comes to enjoying this large, white-fleshed fish, Nathan's tried-and-true wine pairing is white Burgundy.
“Grouper, ultimately, is light and flaky and easy, but once you add the blackening to it, that flavor is going to be the dominant flavor characteristic that you need to pair your wine with,” Nathan says. “So, you need something heavy and weighty enough to withstand these flavors.”
At an appealing price point, Marcel Chevalier Bourgogne Hautes-Cotes de Beaune is Nathan’s recommendation to pour alongside your blackened Florida grouper.
Snapper is another local fish that is typically enjoyed year-round in Florida. Several types of snapper swim through Florida’s waters ranging in size, coloration and taste. The most popular, of course, is the famed Florida Red snapper. When pairing wine with this delicate and sweet fish, Paul recommends a dry Riesling.
“The Pfluger dry Riesling from the Pfalz [short for Rheinpfalz, a German wine-growing region] is one of my absolute favorite seafood wines,” Paul says. “It has this crunchy acidify [and] flavors of lime, and flower blossoms.”
This highly aromatic and acidic white wine has a lovely citrus finish which makes it the ideal partner for snapper.
Pairing Wine With Other Seafood
With so many species of fresh fish out there, it may seem impossible to know which wine will pair best. Thankfully, both Paul and Nathan have a wine up their sleeve that somehow manages to pair brilliantly with any seafood dish. As with most celebrations, food courses, dishes and flavors – the answer is bubbles.
For that reason, Paul’s go-to seafood pairing wine is Champagne.
“You can almost never go wrong with Champagne and seafood as a food and wine pairing,” Paul says.
The unique characteristics of Champagne are hard to beat – it is truly a universal pairing wine.
Nathan’s single seafood wine selection is Chablis. These unoaked Chardonnays from the northwest of Burgundy have a bright acidity that pairs wonderfully with anything from the sea or found in a shell.