6 Best Wine Pairings with Shrimp

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Platter of shrimp on a table with wine

When it comes to wine pairing, most wine enthusiasts are comfortable with a few overarching concepts -- red wine pairs better with red meat and white wine goes with seafood and chicken. In truth, there are many exceptions to these two rules of thumb. 

To arrive at an ideal pairing, one must consider the components of an individual dish, as well as the intended outcome. Do you want guests to feel as though they've had a balanced pairing, such as when the richness of a sturdy Cabernet blends smoothly with the deep flavor of a beef bouillabaisse? Perhaps you're more interested in pairing a wine with a specific ingredient within a dish, like an earthy, mushroom-enhancing Syrah.

Clearly, there are many viable paths to creating a final wine pairing that will achieve your culinary aims. This is certainly true when we apply the concept of wine pairing with the versatile world of seafood dishes, and in particular, shrimp and prawn flavors. 

Wine and Shrimp Pairing Tips

Shrimp is served throughout the world in seemingly endless variations, from Thai street food to a component of an infamous, $9,000 seafood pizza served at Renato Viola in Salerno. This unassuming shellfish is as versatile as chicken, as popular deep-fried as it is sauteed in rich, buttery scampi sauce. 

Apart from preparation, different geographic regions produce distinct shrimp flavors. Briney shrimp from the Spanish Mediterranean is a world away from the enormous, brine-y shrimp pulled in from the waters surrounding Japan. Firm, meaty Massachusetts bay rock shrimp offer yet another shrimp flavor profile. Shrimp (and their close cousins, prawn) are found throughout the world. The list of shrimp and prawn varieties is nearly endless. 

It's no wonder pairing shrimp and wine can feel challenging, even to wine enthusiasts who routinely pair wine and food. There are a few general tips that can help you get started, however.

  1. Consider the saltiness of the shrimp. The more salty, the less dry the wine should be for better balance.
  2. Consider the region. Not surprisingly, wines that originate from the same region as the shrimp are often a perfect match. 
  3. Consider the season. Shrimp is so versatile it is used year-round in light, summery dishes, and hearty winter seafood stews. Matching the heaviness of the meal with the strength of the wine's character is usually good practice. 

Suggestions for Wine and Shrimp Pairings

Here are some suggestions that pair fine wines with a variety of popular shrimp dishes across a few broad categories. 

Light Appetizers 

Shrimp Cocktail

Shrimp cocktail is as simple as it gets, but the fresh, tangy combination of cooked, cold shrimp and cocktail sauce is a classic for a reason. Consider a dry Riesling, which will play well with the horseradish component of cocktail sauce. 

Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp

Another party staple, bacon-wrapped shrimp is a bit heartier, but still on the lighter side.  Often served as a passed appetizer at a catered event or as a shared small dish at a sit-down meal, bacon-wrapped shrimp is all about salt. An oaked white Chardonnay pairs well with this dish because it helps to balance all that delicious, but thirst-making, salt. 

Light Main Dishes

Shrimp Scampi

Garlicky, rich, and satisfying, scampi is another quintessential shrimp preparation.  Whether the scampi is to be served on its own or atop a bed of steaming linguine, the flavor here is imparted from just a few simple ingredients. You can play it safe and stick with a Pinot Gris or a white blend, but consider branching out and trying a rosé with your next shrimp scampi. The high mineral content and acidic bite of a good rosé can work well as a palate cleanser, which your guests might appreciate after indulging in all that garlic. 

Chinese Dumplings

The dumpling craze is still in full swing, and shrimp is often a key ingredient in these delightful flavor bombs. Again, most white wines are going to go well with shellfish-based dumplings, so a safe bet is a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris. Don't be afraid to reach for an interesting Gewurztraminer, however. The American style of this fruity French favorite will provide balance to the earthy, ginger spices used in most Chinese dumpling recipes. 

Heartier Mains

Barbecue Shrimp

Typically, "barbecue" shrimp refers to Cajun or New Orleans style shrimp prepared in a spicy, buttery, lemony, oniony melange of unusual, yet addicting flavors. In The Big Easy, barbecue shrimp is often prepared using shrimp that has just been pulled in from the daily catch. It would be difficult to overpower the flavor of an authentic barbecue shrimp dish, but this is no time for the delicate kiss of a light white varietal, either. A hearty Chardonnay, especially one with noticeable oakiness, is one promising choice. Depending on the depth of flavor in the barbecue shrimp sauce, you may find a well-balanced Cabernet Sauvignon to serve as a surprisingly good fit. 

Shrimp Gumbo

No list of shrimp dishes would be complete without a mention of another New Orleans classic: shrimp gumbo. Like other roux-based dishes, gumbo presents a pairing challenge thanks to its complexity. No doubt, it is worth the trouble to select the right partner for your gumbo, but it can be a challenge, nonetheless. It can help to consider the spiciness of your gumbo. If it's on the "Northern" side of spicy (in other words -- not very spicy), think Pinot Noir. For deep, spicy gumbos, try something more adventurous, like a lively, mineral-forward Viognier.

Key Takeaways

When you need to pair shrimp and wine, go beyond the traditional mindset. Yes, white wine is generally an appropriate fit for seafood. Shrimp is so versatile, however, that you could easily miss a great opportunity to try something new that matches with the overall flavor profile of a dish. 

Browse through the extensive JJ Buckley Fine Wines online catalog to find just the right wine to complement any shrimp dish. 

Still not sure? Don't worry! Our consultancy team is standing by to help you solve pairing dilemmas, recommend well-rated wines, or to steer you toward your new favorite bottle.