If you're popping a bottle of white wine to pair with salmon for dinner, you're doing it right! But did you know that pairing wine with salmon is actually open to a broad range of pairings, including red wine?
Yes, you absolutely can, and should, drink red wine with salmon!
(But we'll get to that in a moment.)
- Start with Salmon's Basic Flavor Profile
- Best Wines with Salmon - A Cheat Sheet
- The Wines - Monterey
- Wine with Seared Salmon
- Wine with Salmon in Briny, Lemony Sauce
- Wine with Poached Salmon
- Wine with Grilled Salmon
- Wine with Miso Salmon or Teriyaki Salmon
- Wine with Salmon in Tomato Sauce
- Wine with Smoked Salmon
- Wine with Salmon Sushi, Crudo, Ceviche, or Poké
- Wine Pairing FAQ
- More Perfect Food and Wine Pairings
- The Best Baked Salmon Recipe
- Monterey County Wines
Start with Salmon's Basic Flavor Profile
Salmon is one of the most versatile fish in the kitchen. The higher fat content in salmon means not only is the fish fairly forgiving in terms of under- or over-cooking, but it's also richer and more flavorful on its own than other fish.
The versatility of salmon in the kitchen is also what makes it open to interpretation at the table for wine pairings. A basic preparation of salmon prepped with nothing but salt, pepper, maybe a few dried herbs, and seared in a hot skillet, is pretty much a blank canvas for any wine. The key is to pair wine to salmon's preparation, considering first any marinade, then the finishing sauce or condiment, and lastly the actual cooking method e.g. searing, grilling, poaching.
This Guide will walk you through the most popular types of salmon dishes and their best wine pairings, along with specific bottle recommendations. A recipe for a simple Seared Salmon that can be paired with virtually any wine, except full-bodied tannic reds, follows.
Of course, don't limit yourself. Use the general pairing principles, e.g. white, high-acid, citrus notes, for each type of salmon dish to pick different bottles of similar wine styles. And if you're feeling really adventurous, try something totally new. And definitely come back here and let us know about it!
Best Wines with Salmon - A Cheat Sheet
tl;dr Here is the wine with salmon pairing cheat sheet, which lists what types of wine pair with salmon the best:
- full-bodied white wines
- aromatic white wines
- sparkling wine
- rosé wine
- light-bodied, low-tannin red wines like Gamay and Pinot Noir
Full-bodied white wines like Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Marsanne, Rousanne, and Viognier have weight and texture that are natural matches with flavor-rich fatty salmon straight out of the pan. Lighter bodied white wines like Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as aromatic white wines like Riesling and Gewürztraminer, work as complements to salmon with their light, bright, citrus characteristics that can balance and cut through salmon's fat.
However, if the salmon's preparation method is robust, and any accompanying sauce is richer and heavier, you can seamlessly pair rosé and light-bodied, low-tannin red wines like Gamay, Grenache, and Pinot Noir, and of course, juicy fruity rosé that’s characteristic of California, too.
To some extent, the specific type of salmon e.g. king, coho, sockeye, can even further fine-tune a pairing, but that's a graduate-level class that you can take after this.
The Wines - Monterey
The specific wines I'm choosing for this Guide all hail from Monterey, California. Yes, that Monterey!
Though it may be better known as a world-renowned travel destination and home to the enormous Monterey Bay Aquarium, historic Cannery Row, luxurious Pebble Beach golf courses, and breathtaking ocean cliffs of Big Sur, Monterey is also one of the oldest wine regions in California. Just inland of all the seaside tourist attractions and over the Santa Lucia Mountains, the largest part of Monterey is planted with 46,000 acres of vineyards. As a comparison, Monterey's more famous cousin to the north, Napa Valley, is planted with 45,000 acres of vineyards!
This past September, I learned about wines from Monterey by physically walking vineyards in one of the more well-known AVAs the Santa Lucia Highlands, touring wineries with harvest about to go into full-swing, and tasting world-class wines with the winemakers themselves. It was on this tasting trip with the California Wine Institute that I experienced first-hand how the Pacific Ocean's cool coastal air that rolls over the mountains and into the agricultural and viticultural valley influences the grapes, which in turn, extends to how well many of the wines pair with fish and seafood right out of the Monterey Bay, including everyone's favorite, salmon!
Monterey is located toward the southern end of the West Coast region, where wild salmon is abundant, so it makes sense that many wines from the region pair well with salmon!
Let's get into some specific pairings, shall we?
Wine with Seared Salmon
Seared salmon is one of food-life's greatest pleasures. It has salty, shatteringly crisp skin. It has barely opaque medium-rare center. And it has the impossible combination of feeling both light and clean and tasting luxuriously rich.
Seared salmon dishes are:
- soft and flaky
- but also meaty
- dependent on seasoning, sauce, and side dishes
and really shine with wines that are:
- dry, medium-bodied for white wine
- earthy, light-bodied for red wine
At dinner at Cella restaurant in old town Monterey (highly recommend!), I ordered a seared local salmon from the Monterey Bay. The restaurant's sommelier came through with a recommendation of an Albariño produced right there in Monterey, really embodying the spirit of the age-old adage "What grows together goes together."
Albariño is a light- to medium-bodied, high acid white wine and exhibits citrus and stone fruit aromas. The albariño grape originates from Spain and Portugal, and can grow in the cooler microclimates along the Central Coast of California.
Best wines with seared salmon:
- La Marea Kristy Vineyard Albariño, Monterey
- The Fableist Albariño, from Paso Robles, just a little further south of Monterey along the Central Coast
- Scheid Vineyards Albariño, Arroyo Seco Monterey
Wine with Salmon in Briny, Lemony Sauce
My latest obsession is Salmon Piccata, the salmon version of lemon- and caper-laced chicken or veal piccata that many of us are more familiar with. The salmon itself is seared simply in a pan, but it's the high-toned acid and salt from the sauce that dictate the wine pairing. The butter in the Piccata sauce is there more for texture than taste.
Salmon Piccata and other briny, lemony sauces are:
- aggressive acid and salt
- strong lemon flavor
- light butter
and calls for wine that is
- equally high in acidity
- citrus-y to match the lemon
Best wines with Salmon Piccata and other Briny Lemony Sauces
- citrus forward Sauvignon Blanc, try Scheid Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Monterey with zesty citrus and tart green apple, and hints of soft green spring herbs
- little to no oak Chardonnay, try Carmel Road Chardonnay, Monterey
- bolder, medium- to full-bodied dry rosé like one made from grenache or syrah
Make these Salmon Recipes with Briny, Lemony Sauces
Wine with Poached Salmon
Poaching is one of the gentlest ways to cook salmon and naturally produces a final dish that is soft and delicate in both taste and texture. Recipes for poached salmon often call for white wine and citrus components as part of the poaching liquid, so it makes sense to use the same white wine for both poaching and drinking. If the poached salmon has minimal sauce or additional flavors, opt for a light, crisp wine that has a citrus element to it like a Sauvignon Blanc.
To explore and expand your palate, try Grüner Veltliner, a crisp, lemon/lime scented high acid wine originating from Austria, but now grown in cool-climate pockets around the world, including California. Grüner Veltliner is similar to Sauvignon Blanc, but definitely retains its own identity.
Poached salmon by itself is somewhat of a blank canvas, so it begs for an interesting, flavorful sauce. Most of the time, these sauces are buttery, creamy, spiked with lemon and sometimes herbs. A classic example is Hollandaise sauce with a base of butter and eggs, and a generous note of lemon. Yogurt-based sauces with herbs like fresh dill and cucumber also accompany poached salmon dishes.
You can use the same pairing recommendations for Salmon Piccata above. Also try a classic California Chardonnay that has a buttery profile and some citrus notes.
Best wines with poached salmon:
- Beautiful buttery, classic oak-aged California Chardonnay, try Talbott Vineyards Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey
Wine with Grilled Salmon
Grilled Salmon is where Pinot Noir can truly shine as a pairing. When grilling, we tend to treat salmon like it's a more substantial type of meat, especially if the salmon is one of the fattier species like Chinook or responsibly farmed Atlantic salmon. We start with larger cuts like whole sides or thick, cross-cut steaks, and use more robust marinades and accompanying sauces. Salmon that is grilled on a wooden plank is particularly well-suited to the earthiness of Pinot Noir.
Grilled salmon is:
and pairs with wines that are:
- balanced in acidity
- medium-bodied for whites, can have some oak
Best wines with Grilled Salmon
- Pinot Noir, try Carmel Road Monterey Pinot Noir
- Pinot Noir, try highly-rated yet very affordably priced Talbott Vineyards Kali-Hart Pinot Noir
Try these Grilled Salmon recipes
- Grilled Salmon with Cherry Salsa
- Peruvian-style Salmon "a la Brasa"
Wine with Miso Salmon or Teriyaki Salmon
Miso marinade and teriyaki glaze are two different preparations, but they share a common flavor that dictates the wine pairing: prominent sweetness. Miso itself can be naturally sweet, and most recipes for the marinade are at least 25% sugar. Teriyaki sauce includes sugar and mirin, which is a Japanese sweetened rice wine.
Miso and teriyaki salmon dishes are:
- did I say sweet already
- sometimes salty and/or spicy
and do best with:
- high acid
- low tannin
Best wine with Miso Salmon or Teriyaki Salmon
- Dry Riesling, try Tatomer 'Steinhügel' Riesling', Santa Lucia Highlands. Tatomer is a Riesling specialist in Santa Barbara, and makes this special Riesling from a biodynamic vineyard in Monterey. Multiple vintages of Tatomer Riesling available here.
- Pinot Gris (same grape as Pinot Grigio), try La Crema Pinot Gris, Monterey La Crema is a widely available brand based north of Monterey in Sonoma, but this particular wine is made with grapes grown in Monterey!
- Gewürztraminer, try Scheid Vineyards Gewürztraminer
- Dry rosé
These wine pairings will more than likely work for salmon glazed or coated with any type of sweetness including brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, reduced fruit juice, etc.
Wine with Salmon in Tomato Sauce
Salmon with any form of tomatoes—whether that's covered with fresh tomato salsa, flaked into a simple marinara for pasta, or braised with a briny spicy tomato sauce like my favorite Salmon Puttanesca—hits all the taste senses for a perfectly balanced dish on its own. Salmon is oily and umami-rich. Tomatoes themselves are acidic and sweet, and whatever preparation will provide saltiness.
Salmon Puttanesca and other tomato sauces have:
- aggressive acid
- natural sweetness
- garlic and spice undertones
so it's no surprise that the perfect wine pairings are:
- sparkling wine with an ever so slight bitter edge
- dry rosé
- medium-bodied red that still has high acid
My go-to wine for Mediterranean-style tomato-based dishes is Sangiovese, a medium-bodied, high acid red wine which might be familiar to you in its Italian expressions as Chianti, Rosso di Montalcino, and Brunello di Montalcino. The Sangiovese grape grows most abundantly in Italy, but is expanding to pockets in South America and of, course California. I love this grape and the various expressions of it in different wines and I LOVE that Sangiovese from California is, obviously, fun and fruity.
Best wine with Salmon Puttanesca and other tomato sauces
- Sangiovese, try Scheid Vineyards Sangiovese, Monterey
- Carbonic Sangiovese, try 'Love You Bunches' from Stolpman's So Fresh label, which undergoes carbonic maceration resulting in lighter body, fruitier flavor and lower tannins. Stolpman Vineyards is a little further south down the Central Coast in Santa Barbara. I have been able to find this wine in my local Whole Foods
Wine with Smoked Salmon
Say "smoked salmon" and try not to think immediately of brunch, especially when the smoked salmon is the silky, thinly sliced cold-smoked variety served with classic accompaniments like capers, red onions, and if you're lucky, caviar. Those briny, robustly flavored components, combined with the automatic brunch association make it impossible for rosé, sparkling wine, or best of both, sparkling rosé, to come to mind as a pairing.
Hot smoked salmon, the kind that looks like a flaky fillet of cooked fish rather than transparent slices, has an earthier, smokier aroma. The same wine pairings work for both kinds of smoked salmon
If you're not a "sparkling wine person," first of all how dare you, and second of all, you have options for still wines. Look to bright, acidic, fuller bodied white wines and light-bodied Pinot Noirs with soft earth undertones.
Smoked salmon is:
- rich with natural oils in the salmon
and therefore pairs best with:
- crisp sparkling to match the salt and smoke
- high-acid, subtle citrus white wines to cut through the fat
- full-bodied, dry rosé for balance
Winemaker Scott Caraccioli of boutique sparkling wine house Caraccioli Cellars poured his Brut Cuvée and Brut Rosé, both made with a combination of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and both of which paired perfectly with a Smoked Salmon toast I had for brunch literally over the waves of the Pacific Ocean on the terrace of the Monterey Plaza Hotel. The crisp bay breeze and the salinity of the ocean air as a backdrop for crisp sparkling wine paired with salty smoky salmon is a total vibe that I will be chasing forever.
Best wines with smoked salmon:
- Sparkling Brut, try Caraccioli Cellars Brut Cuvée, Monterey CA
- Sparkling Rosé, try Caraccioli Cellars Brut Rosé
- bold fruity rosé like a grenache rosé
Smoked salmon recipes
Recreate that ocean-view brunch vibe yourself with these Smoked Salmon recipes:
- Classic Smoked Salmon Platter How-to
- Smoked Salmon and Latkes Platter
- Smoked Salmon Benedict
- Artist Claude Monet's Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Spread
Wine with Salmon Sushi, Crudo, Ceviche, or Poké
Though they are all different styles from different cultural cuisines, sushi, crudo, ceviche and poké are all fresh, mostly raw, preparations of fish. Raw fish dishes often includes some form of acid whether that's a squeeze of citrus directly on the fish, vinegar in the sushi rice or shoyu in the marinade for poké.
These raw salmon preparations are:
and call for:
- light- to medium-bodied, high-acid white wines
- bright, dry rosé
- of course, sparkling.
For Ceviche Tostadas with Salsa Brava that I had at Passionfish restaurant in Monterey, winemaker Casey di Cesare of Sunny with a Chance of Flowers poured a bright rosé to match the fish ceviche. It was, naturally, perfect! He also poured Scheid Vineyards Grenache Blanc, a medium-bodied white wine that tempered the heat from the spicy Salsa Brava.
Best wines with salmon sushi, crudo, ceviche, and poké
- Grenache Blanc, try Scheid Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Monterey
- Rosé, try Sunny with a Chance of Flowers Rosé, Monterey
- Sparkling wine, try the above Caraccioli Cellars brut sparkling wines, Monterey
Wine Pairing FAQ
Q: Ok, one shot only, what is the ONE best type of wine for salmon?
A: Full-bodied white wine. You will almost never go wrong with a medium- to full-bodied white wine with any salmon. Examples of full-bodied whites are Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Rousanne, and Viognier. Lighter bodied white wines like Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc are also natural complements to salmon that is served with a lighter, brighter, citrus-laced sauce or side dish. Sparkling wine always works, too, unless the salmon dish is spicy to the point of fire. The effervescence of sparkling wine can make spicy things taste even spicier!
Q: I only drink red wine. Is there a red wine I can drink with salmon?
A: Yes! You can drink light-bodied, low-tannin red wines with salmon. This class of red wines includes Gamay, Grenache, and of course, all-around favorite Pinot Noir. In fact, Pinot Noir with salmon is generally considered a "classic pairing" for the New World. The specific bottle pairing depends on the preparation method of the salmon, any accompanying sauce, and to some extent, the type of salmon e.g. king, coho, sockeye. Salmon that is cut into meatier "steaks," grilled over charcoal or wood, or flavored with robust seasonings are best for red wine pairings.
Q: What wine should I use to poach or cook salmon?
A: Whatever dry white wine you like to drink, use that to cook salmon. The only exception here would be a very oaked Chardonnay, which doesn't really work for cooking anything. When I'm making a sauce for salmon that includes lemon and garlic, I will almost always reach for a bottle of dry, citrusy, not too grassy Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris.
Explore More California Wine Regions
- Anderson Valley Wineries, North Coast
- Best Paso Robles Wineries, Central Coast
- Best Santa Barbara Wineries, Central Coast
- Santa Ynez, Solvang, and Los Olivos
More Perfect Food and Wine Pairings
- Best Wine and Cheese Pairings Guide, California Central Coast edition
- Classic Salade Niçoise with Santa Barbara wines, especially rosé
- Salmon with Olive Salsa Verde paired with Certified Sustainable California Wineries (CSCW) Sunny with a Chance of Flowers Sauvignon Blanc and Wente Vineyards Riva Ranch Chardonnay
- Salmon Piccata paired with Santa Ynez Valley wines
- Fall Salad with Apples, Walnuts, and Apple Cider Vinaigrette paired with Anderson Valley wines
The Best Baked Salmon Recipe
- 4 6-ounce pieces salmon your favorite variety, mine is wild King salmon
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- black pepper, optional
- chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley for garnish
- Heat oven to 375°F and make sure there is a rack just below middle. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and make sure the foil reaches up and over the edges.
- Pat salmon dry with paper towels. Sprinkle salmon pieces on top and bottom with salt and pepper if using. Place salmon on foil-lined baking sheet, skin side down.
- Bake in oven for about 10 minutes. Then check with a fork for flakiness, or with a thermometer to reach internal temperature of 145°. The baking time depends on how thick the salmon pieces are.
- Using a very thin spatula carefully remove salmon from baking sheet to plates. Garnish with shopped fresh parsley if using. If you did it right, you can just lift the foil off the baking sheet and throw it away.
Monterey County Wines
When you're ready to explore Monterey's 10 AVAs and their wines, either literally by going on a trip or figuratively by opening a few bottles at home, check out the following producers mentioned throughout this Pairing Guide. All of the wineries have tasting rooms in and around Monterey that are open to the public.
Carmel Tasting Room on Dolores between Ocean and 7th
Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921
wines: Sparkling Brut Cuvée, Sparkling Brut Rosé made in the traditional method of making French Champagne (méthode champenoise).
wines: Santa Lucia Highlands Monterey Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, limited production Cabernet Sauvignon
wines: Monterey grown Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Rosé, and Pinot Noir
Carmel Tasting Room at San Carlos & 7th
Carmel, CA 93923
Tasting Room at the Winery
1972 Hobson Avenue
Greenfield, CA 93927
wines: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Grenache Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé, Albariño, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Grüner Veltliner
Sunny with a Chance of Flowers
wines: zero added sugar, low-calorie, and low-alcohol Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rosé, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon
Tasting Room on Lincoln Street
between 5th and 6th Avenues
Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921
wines: estate-grown Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from world renowned vineyards including Sleepy Hollow Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA
This post was created in partnership with California Wines and California Grown to celebrate California Wine Month, which is every September. All opinions and recipe adaptations are my own. Your and our sponsors' support is what helps us live The Delicious Life so thank you!
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Sarah is a professional recipe developer, writer, and digital content creator with almost 20 years of experience cooking dishes to pair with wines and vice versa, selecting wines to pair with food on the table. She has traveled to and tasted wine in Burgundy, France and throughout the many diverse wine regions of California.