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30 Second Wine Tasting Tip:
Red wine with fish? Maybe

One of the first rules we learn about matching food and wine is that white wine goes with fish. It doesn't take much expertise to see that a robust red wine would overwhelm a dish as pale and delicate as sole or scrod; and that goes double if the wine is tartly acidic and astringently tannic.

But the next rule we learn is that there's an exception to every rule, and this one is no exception. Fish cooked in red wine, as is commonplace in Bordeaux, demands a red wine to go with it. And fish that's not delicate white but oily and dark - bluefish, mackerel, tuna or salmon - opens up another world of red-wine-and-fish possibilities.

The affinity of salmon and Pinot Noir in particular has become well-known. Salmon is fatty and rich; Pinot tends to be lighter and more subtle than the bigger reds. Together, they break the old rules in a delicious way.

Or do they?

I've often enjoyed Pinot and salmon, so I know the match works. But last night, feeling in an experimental mood, I decided to serve a salmon dish with a red and a white wine so we could compare and contrast.

It was Sunday, so the fish market wasn't open, but a can of Alaskan salmon and an old recipe for salmon croquettes filled the bill, with a quick modification involving a nonstick skillet to keep them within our current hold-the-calories lifestyle. We opened up the Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio reviewed below, and got right to work.

The result? Both wines worked OK, but here's the hard truth: Despite the new conventional wisdom, in this particular pairing on this particular day, the white wine seemed to make the better match. The red was palate-freshening but almost too fruity and ripe to complement the fish; it was like pouring chocolate sauce on a salad. The white, on the other hand, didn't merely cleanse the palate; its flavors and those of the fish harmonized like a pair of New Orleans street musicians on a Dixieland riff.

What did this experiment prove? Not a whole lot. Maybe we "proved" the rule about white wine and fish, but the red-wine match certainly worked. But here's the most important lesson, and you can apply it to all things wine: Learn the rules, but don't be afraid to test them. There's no better way to learn what YOU like than trying it for yourself.

If you would like to comment on this week's subject, you're welcome to post a message on our interactive Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, Or write me at I regret that the growing circulation of the "Wine Advisor" makes it difficult for me to reply individually to every note. But I'll respond to as many as I can and do my best to address specific questions. Please be assured that all your input helps me do a better job of writing about wine.

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30 Second Tasting Notes:
Two with salmon
Babcock Babcock 1998 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir ($17.99)
Dark-garnet in color, this fruity red offers the characteristic aromas of Central California Pinot Noir - black cherries and fresh tomatoes - with slightly tart tomato-skin and cherry-cola flavors, so forward that it almost seems sweet at first, but it finishes full and dry. (Sept. 16, 2001)

Zemmer Peter Zemmer 2000 Alto Adige Pinot Grigio ($9.99)
This tasty white comes from Italy's Alpine Northeast, a region where many of the local family names (like "Zemmer") speak of a heritage that blends Italian and German/Swiss/Austrian. Appetizing honeydew melon and brisk citrus aromas lead into a crisp but full lemon-lime flavor, medium-bodied but rich in texture, clean and long. A fine expression of Pinot Grigio at an affordable price. U.S. importer: Vin diVino Ltd., Chicago. (Sept. 16, 2001)

FOOD MATCH: As discussed, both wines went well with salmon croquettes; but in this particular pairing the white makes the more interesting match.

World Trade Center: You can help
RED CROSS: If you're looking for a way to make a contribution in the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster, The American Red Cross is a worthy beneficiary. Among the first on the scene when disaster strikes anywhere, the Red Cross is hard at work in Manhattan, providing support for rescue workers, helping friends and families get word of survivors and victims, providing counseling and much more.

To make an immediate, secure donation directly to the American Red Cross for World Trade Center relief, there's a contributions page at For more information about the American Red Cross, visit If you live outside the U.S. and prefer to support an organization in your own country, contact your local Red Cross or Red Crescent Society.

WINDOWS ON THE WORLD: It's estimated that 70 or more workers at Windows on the World, the famous restaurant atop the World Trade Center, died in the disaster. I understand that the New York restaurant and wine community is organizing a Relief Fund for families and survivors, and will pass along more about this when it's available.

California Wine Club sale!
California Wine Club is "pulling the plug" on all case prices!

Wines up to 67% OFF!
Signature Series Wines up to 45% OFF!
Half, full and mixed cases okay!
Champagnes too!
Last Wine Sale before the Holidays!
The California Wine Club's Wine Sale gives you the chance to sample some of their past club selections! Order for yourself or send a gift.

Wine stock is limited and the wine will go fast. Order early by phone 1-800-777-4443, through the website at or E-mail at

This sale ends Sept. 30. All prices are per bottle and F.O.B Ventura, Calif. Call (800) 777-4443 and guarantee your selections!

30 Second Administrivia
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.

More time for wine?
You don't need to wait for Mondays to read about wine! Drop in any time at the Wine Lovers' Page,, where we add new tasting notes several times each week and frequently expand our selection of wine-appreciation articles, tips and tutorials. If you'd like to talk about wine online with fellow wine enthusiasts around the world, click to our interactive, international Wine Lovers' Discussion Group forums,

Vol. 3, No. 35, Sept. 17, 2001

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