Fish for supper? Try a New World chardonnay

Fresh fish and New World chardonnay
Fresh fish and New World chardonnay

There is Chardonnay and then there is Chardonnay. One may be entirely different to the other, yet information on the label may look similar.

And thus the problem of so called ‘varietal’ labelling, the practice of stating the grape variety prominently on the front wine label.

By so-doing, there is the risk that all wines from that variety are ‘tarred with the same brush’, whereas nothing is further from the truth. True, each variety always has some characteristics, which can be recognised nearly every time, but wines made from the same variety can be very different one from the other. Loved by some and hated by others. The wonderful thing about wine. If we all liked the same thing, life would be boring in the extreme.

When it comes to fish, although there are some red wines that work in some circumstances, white wines take pride of plaice – sorry, place.

Dry, nearly always, and a number of different grape varieties can work well – Muscadet (melon Blanc variety), Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin, to name a few. Chardonnay is not everyone’s first choice, unless perhaps it’s a white Burgundy – pure chardonnay although it normally doesn’t say so on the label – front or back. But Chardonnay from the New World can work very well with good flavoursome fresh fish.

If you can track down a good fishmonger, it is worth the effort for both freshness and choice and many of the Farmer’s Markets now have fish stalls. Living in Arundel, for me there is only one place – Riverside Fish in Littlehampton. Basically a wooden shack on the quayside near to the amusement park, it has a fabulous selection of locally caught fish, crab and, if you’re lucky, lobster. The dressed crab and lobster are cooked on the quayside and are the freshest you can find anywhere. Wild seabass, turbot, Dover sole, plaice and brill are all caught locally and are perfect for a delicious supper.

Tasty fish needs tasty wine and a Chardonnay from the New World, with a few years age, pairs perfectly.

Both of the following wines I have chosen have good fruit, depth and just a touch of oak. Robert Oatley Chardonnay 2016 from Margaret River in Australia, is a medium bodied white, showing hints of white peach and nectarine, with depth, complexity and length from judicious use of oak. £13.95 from Co-op and Ocado. Pair it with fillets of Dover sole or Seabass, served with a rich sauce made from a fish-stock and white wine reduction, seasoned and thickened with copious amounts of butter.

My second fish white comes from the Western Cape in South Africa, Cathedral Cellar Chardonnay 2015 from KWV. Bags of flavour, although subtle and restrained, with aromas of orange blossom, lime and nougat. Rich, full, creamy flavour with a hint of oak and crisp finish. A steal at £11 from the Co-op again. This is a great accompaniment to a dressed Selsey crab or fresh, grilled mackerel.

Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.

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