The Best Wine to Pair With Salmon: It’s Synergy At Work

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Plate of seared salmon filet with onion, pomegranate seed and asparagus

Wine lovers everywhere know that the perfect wine pairing with a dish can elevate it to untold levels. Seafood in particular is loved for its versatility with wine pairings. And no seafood is more representative of this than salmon. Throughout the world, salmon is prepared as sushi, pan-seared, baked, even pressed into delicious salmon fishcakes

Salmon's versatility in preparation and cooking methods opens up a vast selection of wines that it can be paired with. Consequently, salmon is one of the most exciting dishes for wine connoisseurs to find the perfect wine pairing for.

So, what wine goes best with your favorite salmon dish? Read on to learn valuable tips and wine pairings.

Tips for Pairing Wine With Salmon

Part of knowing what wine to pair with any dish is knowing the subtle differences from one dish to another. In the case of salmon, different species offer different textures and flavor intensities.

For example, King salmon live in colder waters, thus increasing their fat content. As such, it will have a more robust flavor, which makes it a great choice for light to medium-bodied red wine pairings. Similarly, Chum and Pink salmon have a less intense fish taste, so white wine pairings are a better fit.

Knowing a little more about the salmon you're eating will help you to first determine the general direction in which you should take your wine pairing.

  • King or Chinook salmon — The meat of this salmon is fatty and flavorful, and it's the leading choice for restaurants. An oaky Chardonnay or light to medium-bodied Pinot Noir will match best with King salmon's richness.
  • Pink salmon — This salmon has a milder flavor. The meat is a light-colored pink and lower in fat. This species will lend itself more towards white wines. Depending on how it's prepared, it could go with a buttery Chardonnay or slightly acidic Pinot Grigio.
  • Coho or Silver salmon — The meat is milder than King salmon but more flavorful than Pink salmon. It has a medium fat content and reddish-orange color. While most wines will pair with this species of salmon, red wine should be kept on the lighter side — Beaujolais is a fitting choice.
  • Sockeye or Red salmon — The boldest salmon species. The meat is generally leaner and boasts an intense flavor and smell. The flesh is bright red. This salmon can be paired with Pinot Noirs that present rich dark fruit flavors.
  • Chum salmon — This salmon is most prized for its roe. The meat is a paler pinkish-orange color and is typically lean with a milder flavor. This is a salmon that goes best with a crisp sparkling white or rosé.
  • Atlantic salmon — Farm-raised and available year-round. The meat's flavor and fattiness are mild. Chardonnay is the best option here, but most whites will be great.
  • Steelhead salmon — The meat varies in flavor depending on where it's sourced and how it's prepared. The meat looks like Atlantic salmon, but it tastes similar to trout. Move toward the lighter white wines with Steelhead salmon. Look for a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio.

Generally, your milder tasting salmon meals will pair well with a full-bodied white wine, like an oaked Chardonnay. Umami-forward salmon dishes are the ones that open up to red wines like Pinot Noir.

What Is The Best Wine To Pair With Salmon?

Naturally, how your salmon is prepared will affect which wine will be the best pairing. Here are six examples of pairing wine with salmon.

1. Smoked Salmon With Riesling or Sparkling Wine

Smoked salmon is particularly delightful on canapés with cream cheese, lemon, and dill. A smoked salmon wine pairing destined to delight includes either a dry Riesling or sparkling wine. The citrus and acidity inherent in these wine choices will cut through the smoke and cream of the canapé, awakening your palate with vibrant expressions of both the dish and the wine.

2. Grilled Salmon With Pinot Noir

Grilled salmon should be fatty so that it doesn't dry out while cooking. If you're ordering a grilled salmon, it will most likely be a King salmon — the fattiest species. Therefore, grilled salmon wine pairings ought to be done with the fish's rich flavors in mind.

A light to medium-bodied Pinot Noir will combine its acidity with the salmon's fat to blend nicely into a rich texture and flavor. Additionally, the fruity notes of Pinot Noir will enhance the buttery texture and flavor of a juicy grilled salmon filet.

3. Salmon Fishcakes With Chardonnay

While fishcakes are often overlooked — after all, they tend to be quite fatty — the right recipe can be a standout. If the chef has presented you with a creative salmon fishcake with ingredients such as dijon mustard and lemon, then the oak and fruit of a quality Chardonnay will burst through the flavors and excite your palate.

4. Salmon Sushi With Chablis

Chablis is popular in Japan because it pairs very well with a wide variety of seafood. It's theorized that this is because the Chablis region's soil is rich with the fossils of sea life from long ago. Chablis presents crisp minerality, which is precisely why it's a preferred match with salmon sushi. 

5. Blackened Salmon With Pinot Noir or Merlot

Pinot Noir is the go-to red wine for salmon. With blackened salmon, you can try a red wine with a little more body to compliment the dish's spiciness. The dark fruit flavors of Merlot also balance out the spice of the dish. Whether you choose a Pinot Noir or Merlot depends on how spicy you order your salmon. Mild to medium spice will match well with a Pinot Noir while a heavily spiced salmon filet may be a better choice for a medium-bodied Merlot.

6. Poached Salmon With Pinot Grigio

High-end restaurants often serve cold-poached salmon with vegetables and a side of cream sauce. This light, clean dish offers brackish and earthy flavors that pair nicely with a bit of dry acidity and citrus zest. The light body of a Pinot Grigio will ensure that your dish doesn't become heavy, while the citrus and other fruit will add a zesty flavor to your poached salmon.

The Right Wine For Every Occasion

No matter the dish, the occasion, or the company, JJ Buckley has the right wine for you. We dedicate ourselves to elevating every meal with the perfect wine pairing. That's why we have a team of wine experts carefully curating our catalog to ensure that you are offered high-quality wines that stand out. If you're looking for a wine pairing with your salmon recipe, or if you just want to know what to look for the next time you order salmon at a restaurant, then reach out to our wine consultants to learn more.