Great Wine Pairings For Alaskan Seafood

The first stop on a recent tour of Alaska seafood was Crush Wine Bistro and Cellar in Anchorage, where we had a great dinner of raw oysters, mussel soup, king crab, and white king salmon fillet with wines that matched. The meal not only set the tone for the rest of the four-day visit, but it also set a high standard for other places where we stopped along the way.

Crush owners Robert de Lucia, Scott Anaya, and Chad Culley have crafted a restaurant that serves sophisticated cuisine with wines to match in a relaxed atmosphere. Later, Culley, who has assembled an eclectic collection of international wines, agreed to share his thoughts on ideal wine and seafood pairings.

The Daily Meal: Salmon steaks and filets give eaters a choice of red or white table wines. What are some of your favorite red wines and white wines for pairings?

Chad Culley: I almost never drink white wine with Alaska salmon. The fish is just too fatty and rich and tends to pair better with light reds and rosés. Pinot noir is almost always the answer for unadorned salmon. Other light reds such as st. laurent (Austria), gamay (France and Canada) or old-school barbera (Italy) are great options as well. For rosé, I go a little heavier, but with good acidity and mineral content.

Everyone loves rosé wines. If you had a nice pink from Provence, what Alaskan seafood might you want to pair with it?

Provençal rosés are amazing with fresh, light fish preparations. Niçoise is obvious and works especially well, whether with traditional tuna or with confit salmon, as we serve it at Crush. Others that are amazing with lean rosés include halibut or rockfish en papillote with fresh veggies and whole pan-seared rainbow trout with lemon and herbs.

Chablis and muscadet are naturals for shellfish. But what are some other wine choices, and how would be the best way to use them?

I also love Champagne with shellfish, especially oysters or crab. Obviously a great pairing for crab in a rich sauce is a full chardonnay like those from Sonoma or Meursault. One of our recent discoveries at Crush is a special cuvée of picpoul de pinet [from Languedoc] that is aged sur-lie in oak barrels chained to the ocean floor. It's called "Libero," by Julie Benau, and sounds gimmicky, but the wine is at once full-bodied and lean with distinct briny notes. It pairs incredible well with many types of shellfish.

Crush likes cream or butter sauces for its seafood dishes. When you use cream or butter, what does that dictate for the type of wine you choose?

Butter requires richness in wine, even if the acidity is high. Chardonnay, made in a full style but with good acid structure, is often a good choice. I also like fuller versions of grüner veltliner for more peppery presentations and rieslings made in a rich style (kabinett trocken from a ripe vintage would be a good example) for more citrusy dishes.

What are your go-to wines for halibut or cod?

My personal go-to wine is almost always German riesling for this type of fish. There's no other wine on earth with the same type of rich fruit and high acidity that works so well with the fatty but delicate flavor of halibut. For cod, which is much more delicate (and not nearly as flavorful), I would still reach for riesling, but in a leaner style.

If you really wanted to have a bigger red wine for dinner, such as a mature cabernet or Rhône syrah, what kind of Alaska seafood — including its preparation — might you go with?[pullquote:right]

I have had very mature cabernets with a rustic salmon preparation with a Mediterranean flair (herbs and olives) that worked quite well. It's pretty obscure, but salmon shark is a very powerful flavor and is the one fish that comes to mind that might work with a northern Rhône-style syrah, especially with some sort of wild berry reduction as the sauce.

If you love spicier seafood, what does that demand of the wines you have with dinner?

I would go back to riesling on this one. But to speak in broader terms, for spicy seafood dishes, you need fruit (with or without sweetness), higher acid, and low alcohol. Alcohol is the great killer when it comes to spicy pairings, as the heat of the spice makes the alcohol in the wine more apparent, and vice versa. Look for wines from fruit-driven varieties such as riesling, muscat, gewürztraminer, and pinot gris that are around (ideally) under 13 percent alcohol.