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In the summer, I crave seafood. After a long day in the Mile High City sun, there is nothing more satisfying at twilight than a platter of fresh fish or shellfish and a glass of wine. As a professional sommelier, I offer guidance on the best wines to complement dishes at events and local restaurants. When I’m in the field, questions about what glasses and bottles to pair with seafood are some of the most common I receive. Making selections for coastal fare can be tricky because the flavors, textures, and preparations of mollusks, fish, and other catches vary greatly. There are many misconceptions—for example, that seafood should only be paired with white wine—but we’re here to help. As inspiration, we’ve rounded up five wine and seafood pairings to order in and around Denver and some tips on how to curate your own pairings at home.
Note: Menu items and prices are subject to change, but there are always tasty dishes from the sea to complement well-curated wines at the restaurants below.
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Spanish Octopus and Albariño at Blue Island Oyster Bar & Seafood
Cherry Creek’s seven-year-old Blue Island Oyster Bar debuted a second location in Lone Tree earlier this year with the same New England-inspired decor and large selection of fresh oysters. But what caught my attention on the menu was the grilled Spanish octopus with a chorizo vinaigrette and crispy potato ($17), and one of the best ways to enjoy this tender delicacy is with a glass of Castro Martin A20 Albariño ($14), which has origins in Spain.
Tasting Notes: Albariño (derived from the Latin word “albus” for white) is a wine grape variety primarily planted in northwest Spain and Portugal with clean, intensely fresh characteristics. It is ripe and aromatic, with overtones of yellow peach and melon; the well-rounded wine has a long, mellow, honeyed finish that’s ideal for pairing with octopus.
Caviar and Cava at Stoic & Genuine
Stoic & Genuine, a modern seafood house in Union Station from James Beard Award–winning chef Jennifer Jasinski and business partner Beth Gruitch, has an impressive raw bar and wine list. If you want to treat yourself, order the Champagne duo (starting at $65)—Torres sparkling-wine-flavored potato chips with caviar, crème fraîche, chopped onion, and chives—with a sparkling wine such as the Barcino Cava ($11). The experience of caviar popping in your mouth isn’t too different from the texture created by sipping Champagne bubbles, making them a good match.
Tasting Notes: Cava is a sparkling wine from Spain’s Peñedes region that has fine bubbles and is produced in the same method as France’s Champagne. Barcino is crafted by one of the largest vineyard owners in Peñedes, which has a signature style that is clean and fresh with citrus notes. This three-grape blend (Xarello, Macabeo, and Parellada) has flavors of brioche and white grapefruit, a great expression of Cava.
Picpoul de Pinet and Clams at Maine Shack
Maine Shack in LoHi is a fast-casual, New England-style restaurant offering favorites from the sea, including lobster rolls and clams. We chose the Maine or Ipswich Steamah clams (starting at $9 or $15 for a half pound, respectively), which have a softer outer shell than other varieties. To eat one, open the shell and remove the cooked clam. Use your fingers to pull off and discard the skin covering the clam’s siphon, a “foot” that protrudes from the side of the shell. Grip the siphon with your fingers, swirl the clam around in the hot broth, then dip it into melted butter and savor. Complement the flavors with a glass of La Petite Frog ($7), a white wine made from French Picpoul grapes.
Tasting Notes: La Petite Frog has a pale yellow coloring with a hint of green. The grapes are planted in the Picpoul de Pinet, a coastal wine region in southern France. It has a fragrant nose with wafts of lime peel and pineapple rind. The name Picpoul translates to “stings the lip” in French and refers to the grape’s mouthwatering high acidity. The wine is great with any member of the mollusk family.
Oysters and Whole Fish with Rosé at Green Valley Ranch Smokehouse and Oyster Bar
You do not have to be a member of the Green Valley Ranch Golf Club in northeast Denver to eat at its newest restaurant, a spacious, indoor-outdoor barbecue smokehouse and oyster bar that opened in May. On the day I visited, the eatery had sweet and briny oysters (starting at $15 for six) sourced from Rappahannock, Virginia, and served raw or chargrilled with garlic, parsley, and Parmesan cheese. I went there for oysters, but the fried whole red snapper ($35) held my attention. Perfectly scored and deep-fried, the dish is served with two sides; I chose macaroni and cheese and collard greens. The fruity flavors of the Daou Vineyards Discovery Rosé on the menu paired best with the collard greens, snapper, and chargrilled oysters.
Tasting Notes: Produced in Paso Robles, California, Daou Vineyards Discovery Rosé was inspired by the wines of Provence, France. The rosé is remarkably fragrant, offering aromas of Bartlett pear, nectarine, and hints of flowers. The palate is clean, with fresh crispness exhibiting flavors of mango, melon, and Meyer lemon.
Cod with Aligoté at Mercantile Dining and Provision
Led by James Beard Award-winning chef Alex Seidel and executive chef Alex Astranti, the dishes at Mercantile Dining & Provision inside Union Station showcase the bounty of local farmers and purveyors and are paired with an impressive beverage list curated by wine director Sian Ferguson and lead sommelier Katie Nielsen. Although it is not a seafood-focused restaurant, the delightful parsley-crusted cod dish with caviar beurre blanc ($32), Esoterra Culinary Garden spinach, shallots, coconut, orange, and jalapeño is worth ordering. Get the dish with a glass of Aligoté, which is made primarily within Burgundy and is generally drier in style than other whites with floral and citrus notes.
Tasting Notes: The Aligoté grape is often used in blends, and the wine is beautifully aromatic and displays minerality. The Bourgogne Aligoté by winemaker Patrick Piuze ($13) has a streak of acidity that’s a signature of the brand. There are aromas of green apple, pear, white flowers, and wet stones. The parsley and caviar beurre blanc also enhance the minerality of this wine—a perfect combination.
3 Seafood-and-Wine-Pairing Tips
- Consider the weight and texture of the fish. A light, delicate fish such as sole or perch calls for a lighter style like Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. In contrast, heartier filets such as salmon or tuna play best with a wine with more body and complex flavors like Chardonnay, Burgundy, and even Pinot Noir.
- How dishes like shrimp, scallops and other shellfish are cooked will help narrow down your wine choice—as well as the other ingredients featured in the dish such as the sauce or seasonings. I try to match shellfish dishes and wines with similar characteristics and flavor styles.
- If caviar and/or mollusks are on the menu and you are in doubt, drink bubbles!