White wine with fish? Not always. Salmon and pinot noir are perfect together!
During my last week in Paris, my friend Kelly and I decided to do a wine pairing night. I had a bottle of pinot noir that I wanted to drink before I left Paris and she had another pinot that she wanted to try. So Kelly, her husband Tim, and I planned the menu around these two bottles.
As a grape, pinot noir may be finicky to grow but as a wine, it is quite versatile and goes really well with a variety of foods. Salmon is one food that it pairs well with, so that’s what’s on the menu tonight! I normally roast salmon in a casserole dish filled with olive oil, lemon, garlic and bay leaves. I tasted the pinot noir that I’m brining in a restaurant previously (and loved it so much that I decided to buy a bottle to take home with me right then and there) and I remember it being earthy. In order to complement these earthy aromas in the wine, I am also adding some earthy herbs to the mixture: fresh rosemary and thyme.
There are a few side dishes that we are serving with the salmon:
Lentils with shallot, garlic, and parsley.
Potatoes roasted with herbes de Provence, which is a wonderful mixture that includes such herbs as rosemary, thyme, savory, marjoram, oregano, and even lavender.
Buttered green beans and carrots.
So now for the wines. The two pinots that we are having with dinner are:
2010 Clos des Barraults Premier Cru by Domaine Michel Juillot from Mercurey
2007 Les Fournaux Premier Cru by Domaine Simon Bize et Fils from Savigny-lès-Baune.
Both pinots have the typical aromas of red fruits, including red currant. Both also have amazing smokiness and earthiness. Mercurey, since it is younger, is a bit fruitier and more tannic.
I think both wines worked absolutely great with the salmon! While the salmon is a rich fish, its flavors are quite mild. The pinot noir is also a refined wine with flavors that are not overpowering. In that respect, both the wine and the salmon had an equal intensity of flavors, which allowed both the food and the wine to shine individually, rather than being drowned out by the other. You always want an equality of flavor intensity between the food and the wine for a great pairing.
Besides intensity of flavors, a good wine pairing should also strive for an equality of textures. For instance, smooth food textures go great with smooth wines. Pinot noir is definitely on the silky side of the spectrum and it goes perfectly with the tender and soft texture of the salmon. A wine with a harder, more aggressive body (which may come from tannins or acids) would go better with foods that have a rougher texture such as tough cuts of meat or games like venison or lamb.
One of the characteristics of a pinot noir is the lightness of the tannins – they are very refined and subtle. This is a characteristic that makes the pinot noir a great accompaniment to lentils. If you eat a tannic food – like lentils – with a tannic wine, the tannins in the food exaggerate the tannins in the wine. This can make the wine appear very aggressive and astringent. For instance, with such tannic foods as artichoke, asparagus, lentils (or any beans), a Cote du Rhone or a Cabarnet Sauvignon would be a bad choice. The pinot’s tannins are just light enough to complement the lentils, while being able to provide a refreshing element next to the richness of the salmon. We also added some rosemary and thyme to the lentils to echo the flavors in the salmon as well as the earthiness in the pinots.
The potatoes and the veggies were also a great accompaniment to the wine! The earthiness from the herbes the Provence in the potatoes really enhanced the earthy flavors in the wine. Green beans were a great choice to serve with the pinot for the same reason as the lentils – they are a tannic vegetable. Sweet flavors like carrots also bring out the best in a pinot.
It was such a delicious homemade meal! And both pinot noirs were a great choice to go with the meal.
We ended the evening with some pastries from one of my favorite bakeries in Paris – Aoki Sadaharu. Their lemon tart is the best that I’ve tasted!