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Dec 25, 2007 03:12 PM

wine pairing: roast salmon with fennel

I'm making Barefoot Contessa's roast salmon with fennel for New Year's Eve (great recipe, btw). Last time I made it, we drank pinot noir (everyone preferred red), which worked well enough. But I wonder if we might have done better. Any suggestions --especially for red? And any SPECIFIC suggestions up to $40?

And finally, when guests ask if they can bring wine, is it too tacky to say yes, and then to specify pinot noir or whatever?

Thanks --and Happy New Year!

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  1. In order of preference in matching this dish:

    1) Chardonnay. The single-best match for "salmon", and a fine match for fennel as well.
    2) Sauvignon Blanc: Good match for "salmon", the single-best match for fennel.
    3) Pinot Noir... Very good match for salmon.

    If you can persuade your friends, try a "red and white"... pinot noir and either chardonnay (my pick) or sauvignon blanc.


    3 Replies
    1. re: Chicago Mike

      Thanks, Mike. My partner HATES chardonnay, so I think we'll go sauv blanc for the white option.
      Specific suggestions still very much welcome.

      1. re: simkhele

        You know, Sim, that's a shame because if there's any meal that will convert the biggest chardonnay hater, it would be this one... Does he hate champagne too? If not, play a bit of a trick here and serve a Champagne Blanc de Blancs... when he's telling you how great it is with this dish, remind him that it's 100% chardonnay :)

        But, back to your request for specific sauvignon blanc recs... my comment on this is always the same.... the best your wine vendor(s) can offer you, within your budget, from the following vintages:

        Marlborough, NZ: 2004's

        California: Napa is still king for great SB, 04-05 and 06 are all great... I'd probably pick them in that order today as well.

        Pouilly-Fume & Sancerre: 2005 is probably the most even of recent great vintages.

        1. re: Chicago Mike

          Hmmm... I've already had some 2004 NZ SBs on their way downhill. Remember, although it was a good vintage, NZ dates are half a year behind US dates. A 2004 NZ SB has been sitting on a shelf for 3 years already. I find New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are usually best within 18 months of release. Although, as I said, I also don't think the NZ fruit profile (or low acidity) is conducive to this dish as compared to other regions for the grape.

    2. You can't do better than Pinot Noir, except for maybe a great Beaujolais, with that dish if you are sticking to red.

      That said, a Chardonnay with a little oak treatment, or a Champagne, particularly a Rose Champagne, would work smashingly.

      And it all depends upon the guests and relationships. If people are *expected* to bring wine, then, generally, it isn't rude to discuss what sort of wine. If it is a gift or friendly gesture to bring wine then I would not generally specify. But again, the relationships involved dictate what is appropriate.


      Added after seeing the initial post twice...

      For a non-Chardonnay white, I would choose an Alsatian (Toaky) Pinot Gris as my first choice. A Fuller bodied dry Riesling would also work. So would many Rhone varietals. For Sauvignon Blanc, I would also tend twords a fuller version, and not from NZ -- I'd stick to US, Fruili, or Central Europe / Balkans (or Graves or a really good Loire, if you are willing to pay the tarrif).

      2 Replies
      1. re: whiner

        Thanks to you both for these helpful suggestions.
        I'll be sure to toast you on New Years Eve, at least internally.
        Happy 08!

        1. re: simkhele

          I have to ask, why does your husband hate Chardonnay? It is true that there is a lot of generic Chardonnay out there, and for the most part, I am bored by most Chardonnay. But I have to plead the case for some really wonderful wines like the Champagne suggested by Chicago Mike. And Chablis! We just had Chablis and oysters the other day, and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. And of course, white Burgundy is very near and dear to my heart. Ahh Domaine Leflaive! How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

      2. Since the salmon is not grilled, but instead roasted, I don't recommend Pinot Noir. Too heavy a wine for this salmon preparation. There is no charring or smoke that would create the flavors and heft to match this salmon with a Pinot.

        Moreover, since this dish is stuffed with fennel and oranges, the inside of the fish is almost steamed while in the oven. In any case, I heartily second the recommendations for Rose Champagne. Perfect for this dish in general, and it is New Year's Eve.

        Rose (still wine) would also work, as would a white that picks up on the fennel and orange...
        I'd recommend a Graves (Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux; I like the Smith Haut Lafite and Chevalier), a Vouvray or Chenin Blanc from the Loire, or the wonderful white wine Torrontes (also the name of the grape) from Argentina (I like Susana Balbo the best).

        What characterizes these whites is good fruit, unmasked and unmanipulated, with a refreshing citrus-y liveliness that matches really well with fish. For that reason, Chardonnay is far down the list as a recommendation from me. Especially the unctuous, butterball California Chardonnays. White Burgundies are different matter. Even so, for this dish I'd still go for a white Bordeaux over a white Burgundy.

        But Rose Champagne is still at the top. Lots of good recs lately for it on this board.

        8 Replies
        1. re: maria lorraine

          "What characterizes these whites is good fruit, unmasked and unmanipulated, with a refreshing citrus-y liveliness that matches really well with fish. For that reason, Chardonnay is far down the list as a recommendation from me. Especially the unctuous, butterball California Chardonnays. ..."

          Huh... yeah... I had just had a few Peter Michaels when I posted that a Chardonnay with oak treatment might work well. I was thinking about the Peter Michael / Aubert citrus/brown spice style and forgot about the price/availability factor. So, pretty much scrap my Chardonnay suggestion. :-)

          1. re: whiner

            Note that there's no mention of fruit or citrus in the post... I presume if you google the contessas recipe you'll find it there... As for chardonnay as a match for "salmon & fennel", for my palate it's a great match....

            "salmon, fennel AND FRUIT" may be another story. It really depends, IMO on how much fruit is involved as to the appropriateness of chardonnay here. If there's a "hint" of citrus that's no problem... on the other hand if there's a fruit chutney or the salmon is slathered in a fruit accompaniment, that's quite another thing... In the latter event, if there are prominent, lingering fruit flavors in this dish I'd favor a riesling here.

          2. re: maria lorraine

            As so often, you're absolutely on the right track. Nothing about this dish screams Chard or Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc. The recipe can be found at

            The flavours at play are not strongly regional -- though fennel, olive oil and a hint of orange do point toward the Mediterranean -- meaning that "passe-partout" wines like pink champagne (probably the most passe-partout of all), a richer white Burg (Pouilly-Fuissé or Mâcon, for example) or a Sémillon-dominated white Bordeaux would work. The first candidate in this category that sprang to my mind was Chenin Blanc (Vouvray, Savennières, Anjou, etc.), which is fabulous with salmon, orange and faint anise flavours.

            Still, my first choice would probably be more southerly still: a Soave from one of the better producers, an Erbaluce or Erbaluce-Chard blend, a Marsannne/Roussanne, a Rhône-style white blend like Phelp's Pastiche, a Fiano d'Avelino, any number of Sicilian whites... All pair beautifully with all the flavours at play in this dish.

            1. re: carswell

              Now that we see the entire receipe the flavor notes are very salmon and fennel dominated.... 5 cups of fennel and 5 cups of onion vs. the zest of 1 orange and 2 tbsps of orange juice... essentially a hint of orange... hardly "stuffed with oranges" as the commentator suggests.... against the dominant flavors of fennel, onion, and salmon.

              How do chardonnay, riesling, and sauvignon blanc not work with onion, fennel and salmon ?

              1. re: Chicago Mike

                Setting aside the recurring issue of your wide-brush approach to varietal wines, who said they don't work with onion, fennel and salmon?

                1. re: carswell

                  if I read your post above correctly, you wrote:

                  "... nothing about this dish screams chard, riesling, or sauvignon blanc..."

                  I take that as your "wide brush approach" to this recipe NOT to endorse these varietals as a match for it, correct ?

              2. re: carswell

                Carswell, tell me about Erbaluce. I've never had it, and love obscure Italian varietals. Is it similar to Arneis, also from Piedmont? It's come up a few times over the years, as recently as a couple of weeks ago.

                Indeed I mistyped...should have read "stuffed with fennel, with orange zest and juice."
                Recs are still the same.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  Staying in the region, Cortese (which would also work with the salmon) is probably a better comparison for Erbaluce than Arneis is, in part due to their shared high acidity. Erbaluce's aromas/flavours tend to white fruit and citrus with an undercurrent of volatile herbs (sage?) and minerals. Like Soave, much of what's made is insipid but in the hands of a conscientious producer...

                  The acidity is one of the reasons a dollop of Chardonnay can be a good thing. It's also why Erbaluce is often made into sparklers and passito-style sweet wines.

                  Bonny Doon was marketing a pretty good Erbaluce Di Caluso as part of its Il Circo series (now discontinued?): La Funambola.

            2. Without seeing the BC's exact recipe, the two wines that I find to marry with salmon are PN (OR first choice), and Pinot Gris (again a "Reserve" from OR). I find that too many lower acid wines go metallic with salmon. A good Barbera might be an exception, as might a Malbec (Mendoza Region). I am not a fan of Chards, or SB's, with salmon, regardless of their heritage, but that is personal tastes.

              Given the salmon, I'd look to something from Yamhill Vineyard, or Domaine Droughin for the PN and the King Estates Reserve (note the "Reserve") PG for a white.

              As I find a lot of anise-like flavors in fennel, I think that the PN would go very well. A Pinot Meunier might work well, but will be more difficult to find (Domaine Chandon, CA does a nice one).


              1 Reply
              1. The citrus acidity from the orange in the dish may make for a difficult time with wine pairing in general, especially if you go with a red and especially if the orange flavor is pronounced and tart from being off season. I would choose a sparkling wine such as prosecco. If your guests are game, pair this with the ultimate wine for food: Riesling. If you have access to a decent wine shop, bring the recipe with you and have them recommend specific bottles that are available. Good luck!