Pairing Summer's Salmon

Inspired ideas for the season's freshest salmon


After writing this week's article that focused on local food festivals I realized, perhaps almost too late, that the Copper River Salmon season is rapidly coming to a close. While salmon might not be thought of as a particularly summery dish, the light meaty flavor of salmon along with its firm texture makes it perfect for grilling, and the fact that Pacific salmon is in season right about now in fact does make salmon a quintessential summer time dish.

How you prepare your salmon can influence how summery it feels though, and grilling seems to be to be the quintessential summer time cooking technique, though it can be done year round of course. Salmon is a wonderfully adaptable fish, both in the kitchen as well in a wine sense, working well when paired with everything from virtually any white wine to some lighter reds like Pinot Noir, Frappato, and even Syrah. It all depends on the preparation of course so lets take a look at five particularly enticing salmon recipes and work out some suitable wine pairings for each!

Grilled Salmon Bundles with Saffron, Tomatoes & Olives

Grilled in name only, and the ease of clean-up of course, these individual sevings of savory seasoned salmon may pick up a nuance of smoke from the grill, but have bright flavors dominated by tomatoes and olives. This is a perfect time to try a lighter styled Rhone blend with salmon. Something with enough light fruity Grenache to match the intensity of the dish, yet with some Syrah and Mourvedre to add those spicy, meaty, savory flavors that will work so well with the olives in particular. If you're looking for something a bit lighter consider a rich rose from the south of France made from a similar blend of grapes.


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Grilled Pastrami-Style Salmon

This is entirely at the other end of the spectrum. Grilled and intensely flavored, this pastrami style recipe is sweet and spicy, with the classic flavors of cola, coriander, allspice, brown sugar... you know where I'm going don't you. We all know that Pinot Noir is a good match for salmon, and here's a recipe that seems ready made for the pairing, though you might want to opt for a fuller bodied expression of Pinot like a classic example from the Russian River Valley to handle the richness and spice of this dish.

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Fennel and Dill Rubbed Salmon

And here in the famous words first uttered by she of the golden locks is a recipe that is just right. Layered complex flavors derived from the herbal dill and fennel elements, but also incorporating a litle spice and the smoky, fruity flavor of Spanish smoked paprika, this is a recipe that will shine with a lighter example of Pinot Noir, one that doesn't hide it's hint of herbal spice. I'm thinking or Oregon here, though a fine example from New Zealand would be equally at home. If you prefer something lighter with this dish a fairly rich Pinot Blanc from Alsace would also be a wonderful match.

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Grilled Whole Salmon with Red-Pepper Aioli

Here's a recipe that's super simple, seasonal, and perfect for a crowd. I like the combintaion of the red pepper aioli here ading a creamy contrast to the grilled fish and a lightly fruity splash of flavor to compliment the smoky depth of flavor. This is a simple recipe, so try and find the freshest, tastiest salmon you can find before unleashing this on your friends. As far as a wine pairing, this is pretty up much up for anything from a nice, bold Chardonnay to a fine rose of Cabernet, which would make a dynamite partner here, particularly if you serve this at room temperature instead of fresh off the grill.

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Poached Wild Salmon with Peas and Morels

This is just a gorgeous recipe that screams summer, in a pitch perfect voice. It's a dish not for a crowd, but for a few, slow, calm, and as part of a hedonistic evening. The flavors here are bright and pure, and really call for a white wine that is both rich and subtle. It's time to break out your best Gruner Veltliner with this dish, preferably one with enough age on it to have gained a bit of creaminess of texture. If that's not your speed Chablis would also be in order, and again one with a bit of age would be wonderful here but if your just going to grab a bottle from the store shelf to pair with this tonight I'd opt for a creamy cool climate Chardonnay, perhaps from South Africa or New Zealand.

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