Wine Pairing With Scallops: 5 Great Choices + Why They Work

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Perfectly seared scallop on a bed of black rice
Photo by Sebastian Coman Photography on Unsplash

Scallops are tender, buttery, absolutely delicious, and can be found in both beach-inspired art and Michelin-starred restaurant menus alike. But in the history of shellfish, scallops haven't always been the most popular cuisine. In fact, the delectable bivalve mollusk was typically ranked underneath oysters and clams. It wasn't until the 1920s that they became a staple in high-end pastas, salad recipes, ceviches, and most enjoyably as the main course.

A Tale of Two Scallops

When considering ordering a scallop dish or serving it to dinner guests, it's important to note that there are two types — bay scallops and sea scallops. Wine pairing with these scallops will generally run along the same lines, but it's important to note that differences in texture, flavor, and how they're used may influence how you decide to pair them.

Sea Scallops

Sea scallops are the larger of the two. They're found in the cold waters of the deep ocean and are up to three times larger than bay scallops, coming to around the size of a marshmallow. Being larger means that they have a thicker, fleshier texture. 

Though still sweet in flavor, sea scallops are slightly brinier than their smaller counterparts. They usually also require different cooking methods that influence your wine pairing. Sea scallops are best for grilling and pan-searing, both of which give your scallops a crispy outside while maintaining a tender center. Since there's a wide variety of spices that can be used on grilled and pan-seared scallops, how you season them will help determine the best wine pairing.

Bay Scallops

Bay scallops live in the shallow water of bays and estuaries of the east coast of the United States. They're typically around the size of a kernel of popcorn. Being smaller means that they cook much quicker, so they're often used in casseroles, chowders, or ceviche. 

Since bay scallops are sweeter and more tender than sea scallops, they're going to lend themselves more towards dishes that pair best with white wine.  

5 Wine Pairings With Scallops and Why They Work

Most people will tell you that scallops should be paired with white wine. The light flavor, tender and buttery texture, and aromatic seasonings ideally pair with white wine. However, this doesn't mean that great scallop and red wine pairings aren't out there. Here are pairings for both red and white wines alike.

1. Pan-Seared or Grilled Scallops With Chardonnay

Grilled and pan-seared scallops are timeless classics. Both professional and home chefs love pan-searing scallops in butter. The butter enhances the natural sweetness of scallops, thus pairing them well with a lighter chardonnay. 

However, if you're looking for something a bit more complex, then an oaked chardonnay will work better for you. The complexity provided by the oak will pair nicely with scallops that are seasoned with herbs such as thyme or tarragon with a bit of pepper and lemon zest.

If you're looking for an old-world wine pairing, then a white Burgundy or chenin blanc will elevate your scallop dish with the elegant complexity that old-world wines are known for. Notably, they pair well with the sweet and zesty flavors that grilled and pan-seared scallops offer.

2. Coquilles Saint Jacques With Sauvignon Blanc

There are countless versions of the classic French coquilles Saint Jacques. While it's most strictly defined as scallops in a wine sauce, the most important thing to remember is that the sauce will likely be creamy, with cheese, and topped with bread crumbs.

Many will say that a coquille Saint Jacques pairs better with chardonnay. Indeed, the rich texture blends well with the texture of chardonnay, especially a Chablis. But consider brightening up this dish with some citrus. 

The crisp texture of a dry sauvignon blanc will liven this classic dish with its hints of grapefruit and bell pepper. The acidity will also help to cut through its richness and keep your palate from being overwhelmed by cream and cheese.

3. Scallops With a Beaujolais or Other Light Reds 

Seafood and red wine enthusiasts will rejoice that there's a precedent for a scallop red wine pairing. In fact, there are several.

While it's true that you wouldn't want to throw a bold Zinfandel or full-bodied Cabernet at a delicate plate of scallops, the soft tannins and fruity flavor of Beaujolais add unique complexity to scallops. Additionally, a red Sancerre or St. Laurent will allow you to enjoy a red wine that won't overwhelm the delicacy of your scallop dish. 

Light and fruity red wines also pair well with spicy foods, so a light bodied red wine is particularly delicious when paired with Cajun-seasoned scallops. 

4. Raw Scallops With Riesling

A raw scallop dish, such as a marinated ceviche, is where a crisp Riesling reigns supreme. In a raw scallop dish, you're going to experience more of the briny flavor of the sea. Pairing this unique flavor with the acidity and minerality of a dry Riesling will help you embrace raw scallops' unique flavor. It will also help balance the intense jalapeño spice that's sometimes used in ceviche. 

5. Baked Scallops and Sparkling Wine

Baked scallops are decadent treats, so they should be paired with an equally decadent wine. Sparkling wines — such as those from the region of Champagne — have been used to celebrate luxury for centuries. Baked scallops are wonderful because their ingredients showcase the luxury of fine dining. 

For both at-home and professional chefs, there are few culinary limits with baked scallops. They can be smothered in a truffle beurre blanc, topped with panko bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese, or baked right in their shell to add visual flair. Whatever sumptuous manner in which your baked scallops are prepared, a refreshing, mildly dry glass of sparkling wine will take your experience to the next level. 

A Wine for Every Scallop

Finding your own scallops at the bottom of the sea can be difficult. Fortunately, finding the right scallop and wine pairing is easy with JJ Buckley. We pride ourselves in carrying some of the finest wines available, and our team of Certified Sommeliers and WSET-certified specialists are here to help you choose the best wine for any occasion.