Your Guide to Cioppino Wine Pairing

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Bowls of cioppino with dishes of rice on a table.

Your latest dinner party is on the calendar. What are you planning to serve? If you’re still working on the main course, you might be thinking seafood, lamb, or beef. After reviewing, you choose fresh seafood, since you’re interested in trying a new recipe for cioppino for the first time. What exactly goes into cioppino, though, and how can you pick the perfect wine and cioppino pairing?

All About Cioppino

First, a little history on cioppino. This dish is a beloved San Francisco original that developed in the late 1800s. As history goes, Italian-American fisherman around North Beach created the meal while out on their fishing boats. Those who hadn’t found success with the day’s harvest would gather around a large pot, asking fellow fisherman for whatever they could spare. And into the pot it went, along with common ingredients they had on hand.

What about the name? Most of the fishermen in North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf had immigrated from Genoa and Liguria in Italy. There, they had a word, ciuppin, for chopping meat and vegetables into small pieces. Since the dish featured a rich medley of seafood, it’s a fitting name for such a hearty, homemade dish.

There’s another version, too, about how ciuppin applied to a different type of fish soup in Genoa. Is it any surprise that cioppino—little soup—became an affectionate name for the fishermen’s San Francisco creation? Put together, it’s clear that this simple dish won the hearts and taste buds of all who ate it.

A Look at the Ingredients

Although the recipe varies slightly whether prepared in the North Bay or the South Bay around San Francisco, cioppino has a few standard ingredients: seafood, tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, onion, fennel, herbs, and spices like hot pepper flakes. Cooked in wine and broth, the ingredients create a spicy tomato-based sauce that complements the subtle sweetness of the seafood.

Wondering what type of seafood you’d find in cioppino? Anything goes! From Dungeness crab, crawfish, and shrimp to mussels, scallops, clams, prawns, and local fish, you can use whatever is fresh depending on the season.

If you’d like to follow San Francisco tradition at your own dinner party, serve your cioppino with fresh crusty bread or sourdough.

Tips for Pairing Wine and Cioppino

When matching wine and seafood, you might go with a rose wine or a white like Sauvignon Blanc to complement without overwhelming. Others love a classic Pinot Noir served with fattier, bold fish like salmon. But what happens when you have seafood served with sauce, or a medley of seafood in a dish? Wondering how to pair wine and cioppino?

When pairing wine and cioppino, you'll want wines that have enough acidity for the tomatoes, complexity to match the ingredients, and moderate to lower tannins to keep flavors balanced. In general, oak-aged whites and reds don’t harmonize as well with this dish. That said, there aren’t just one or two wines that would work. Taste buds and personal preferences also play a part.

Cioppino Wine Pairing Recommendations

1. Zinfandel

Zinfandel is a black pepper-spiced wine, with plenty of deep red and black fruits like plum, pomegranate, and raspberry. Spicy, fruity, and acidic, Zinfandel makes a great match for the spices and tomato-rich sauce of cioppino. It may be a powerful red wine, but its fruit-forward nature brings good balance to the acidity of the tomatoes.

2. Albarino

Albarino is another wine with plenty of zippy acidity. This white wine marries well with the taste of the seafood, offering its own flavors of melon and pineapple. Albarino is a classic companion to many types of seafood, which means it can only enhance the diverse seafood flavors of cioppino.

3. Vermentino

Vermentino is an Italian white wine with snappy complexity. It has excellent acidity and intensity, with fruity notes like lime, pink grapefruit, peach, and pineapple. Vermentino pairs well with dishes higher in garlic and fennel—like cioppino.

4. Provencal Rose

A dry Provencal rose wine, thanks to Grenache and Cinsault as the main varietals in the blend, has a pleasing amount of fruitiness. It also has moderate acidity and body, and a touch of warm spice. The intriguing smokiness of the Cinsault grape is an excellent companion to this stew dish.

5. Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc retains its bright acidity and marries well with a tomato-rich dish like cioppino. Look for Sauvignon with slightly higher fruity notes, typically found in regions like California and New Zealand.

6. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

A lighter red from the Abruzzo region of Italy, Montepulciano is highly aromatic with plenty of peppery notes. It is seen as more of a rustic wine, a trait that complements the rustic nature of cioppino. Montepulciano from fully ripe grapes yields a pleasing acidity and low tannins.

9. Trebbiano d’Abruzzo

A white wine from the same region of Italy as Montepulciano, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo has excellent acidity and a fruit-forward character. It has good depth and a refreshing crispness that can enhance the sauce of cioppino while providing balance to the seafood itself.

10. Beaujolais

If searching for a lighter-bodied red wine, consider pairing cioppino with Beaujolais. This red wine from the Gamay grape has excellent acidity, making it a match for the tomato sauce. Beaujolais is also lighter in body and low in tannins. Plus, it has abundant fruity notes like cherry, currant, raspberry, and cranberry.

11. Sangiovese

This rust-red wine has a moderate body and acidic nature. Sangiovese is also known for having both fruity and savory notes. You’ll find hints of dark cherry, plum, raspberry, mulberry, fig, and strawberry alongside cloves, tobacco, tomato, oregano, and rose. Altogether, it makes a wonderful companion to a cioppino dish.

The next time you host a dinner party or simple get-together with friends, consider serving a San Francisco dish like cioppino paired with your favorite wine. To find wines like those mentioned above, search our extensive online catalog organized by varietal and country. You can also reach out for JJ Buckley's consultancy services for personalized assistance. Happy dining!