GIVEN that the spring salmon season is well underway, it’s an ideal time to look at fish-friendly white wines. The huge variety available and rising quality serve to reinforce the idea further.
As white Burgundy can almost always be relied on to give a good account of itself with salmon, I will focus today on chardonnay from elsewhere.
Australian versions do not always get a fair press so welcome, if you will, the top-of-the-range 2010 Dawson & James Chardonnay (£46.99, Lockett Bros, North Berwick). The elegance of this wine lies in its balance. While whispers of vanilla emerge from the oak used in its fermentation and maturation, there remain upfront peach flavours with an edge of orange and attractive grapefruit-based acidity – courtesy of a cooler climate in its native Tasmania.
For a more everyday version, seek out the delicate 2011 Jordan Chardonnay (£11.99, Majestic). This also integrates oak-derived vanilla with textured apricot flavours but superimposes it with a gentle underlying acidity reminiscent of lemons and green apples.
Oak flavours really come into their own when salmon has been smoked. For a slightly unexpected example, try 2011 Luis Cañas Barrel Fermented Rioja Blanco (£8.99, Penicuik Wines). The white rioja grape, viura, is often disappointing but here gets a lift from the soft and slightly peachy malvasia. This is nicely rounded and textured with oak on the nose and vanilla on the finish, but what really makes it is the overall softness and burst of apple and lime-influenced acidity.
Turning to wine for other fish, a traditional option is 2011 Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (£22, Majestic). Traditional it may be, but this is a superb example of sophisticated Marlborough and terrific wine for simple fish dishes (pan-fried sea bass or sole). It delivers all sauvignon’s zesty freshness and lemon acidity, but combines it with restrained flavours of gooseberry, ripe orange and a savoury undercurrent that lets the delicacy of the fish speak for itself.
Less orthodox, but nevertheless very distinctive, is 2011 Colombo & Fille Côtes du Rhône Blanc (£10.99, Ellies Cellar). Originally a pharmacist from Marseilles, Jean Luc Colombo acquired a reputation as a controversial maverick but no-one can argue with the quality of the Rhones he has produced.
This time, he has turned to whites and produced a clean, minty and smooth wine with a lively mouth feel. Its balanced acidity sits in the background neatly accentuating the flavour range that includes pear, tangerine and celery. With flavoursome fish dishes without a powerful sauce, it works really well.
For something really unusual, let me steer you towards 2011 Malagousia Domaine Gerovassiliou (£13.49, Inverarity One to One, Glasgow). Particularly if there is a little spice in the food, this delivers the goods in the way viognier often does.
Although malagousia is a Greek grape through and through, there are many common characteristics with viognier. It is smooth and textured with aromas of apricots and touches of peach stone but, behind that, it adds appealing ripe melon flavours enlivened with an edge of lemon-centred acidity.
Despite this week’s fish-centred themes, the taboos that have anchored white wine to fish have effectively disappeared. Brilliant matches can be found between chardonnay and mature cheddar or between viognier and belly pork. So, good as whites are with fish, be ready to experiment.
• 2012 Dominio del Plata Torrontes Salta, Argentina, 13.5 per cent
The high altitude in this area is often given the credit for the lemon-influenced acidity that makes good torrontes so appealing. Here, that acidity is supplemented by herbal freshness, an appealing, slightly syrupy texture and, finally, delightful, perfumed peach-dominated flavours. £8.99, M&S
• 2011 Rigal L’Instant Truffier Malbec Cotes du Lot, France, 12.5 per cent
Although thoughts turn to Argentina, malbec’s spiritual home is south-western France. This soft, juicy example from its French homeland has long, plum and bramble fruit, refined tannins and a spicy chocolate finish. £6.99 (down from £8.99 until 29 April as part of a mixed case), Majestic