Science Explains: Why You Can't Drink Red Wine With Fish

By Brett Israel | October 23, 2009 1:35 pm

red-wine-webSnooty wine pairing rules, such as the edict that one must only drink white wine with fish, now have a little data behind them, according to a new study. Researchers found a correlation between the high iron content of red wine and a nasty, fishy aftertaste when the reds are sipped with seafood. In the experiment, tasters ate a bit of scallop, tasted some wine and evaluated the aftertaste on a scale of 1 to 4. The diners found the unpleasant aftertaste was more intense with wines that had a higher iron content, the researchers say [Los Angeles Times]. The researchers were able to block the aftertaste by adding a compound that masks the iron.

The iron content of a wine depends on the composition of the soil in which the grapes were grown, the dust on the berry, contamination during harvesting, transportation, and crushing, and the conditions during fermentation [Telegraph]. The new research, published in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, suggests that some low-iron red wines are OK to drink with fish. While red wines tend to have more iron than whites, it varies according to the type of grape, country of origin, and vintage.

But the iron is only half the story. The researchers report that they haven’t yet isolated the compound in the scallops that reacts with the wine, but they suspect it’s an unsaturated fatty acid, which could be breaking down rapidly and releasing the decaying fish smell when exposed to iron [ScienceNOW Daily News].

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Image: flickr / yashima

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain
MORE ABOUT: alcohol, fish, senses, taste
  • Ahli Anggur

    I wonder how tradition and common sense, when reduced to simple (and optional) guidelines to help diners avoid an unpleasant experience, become “snooty rules”?

    The general belief among sommeliers has been that tannins in red wine tend to clash with oily fish, sometimes producing a metallic taste. So a pinot noir, high in acid and low in tannin, should pair well with salmon; but a big, tannic Napa cabernet may not go so well with yellowfin tuna. Perhaps the chemists might test this next.

  • Cris Whetton

    There is at least one fish dish that is drunk with red wine: salmon, poached in red wine and oranges. (Arctic char is better than salmon, but not traditional: the dish dates from the sixteenth century.) It does not go at all well with a white.

  • Patrick

    In unpolluted streams, lakes and marshes, the tannic acid (tannin) content is closely linked to the iron content of the water; in fact, chemically speaking, tannins are practically sponges for iron. So Ahli’s comment about the tannic acid content shows the great value of the wisdom of experience. I’d suggest we should all do a lot more “research” on this at our dinner tables.

  • Eno-Master

    I have to agree with both Ahli and Cris that cooking method does make a difference and salmon can pair nicely with Pinot Noir if prepared to do so.
    With all of this in mind, Patick has the right idea.
    What’s for dinner tonight?? Let’s make it salmon with a Pinot Noir. I have a nice 2002 in my cellar, that should go well with salmon.
    In general, I’ll drink white wine with most fish and seafood.

  • Lisa

    Health aspect: Another factor when combining red wine with ANYTHING is iron absorption. If you are even remotely iron deficient, beware these “iron sponges” that Patrick mentioned. They will rob from other iron-rich foods and slow or prevent them from being used/stored by your body. Just a tidbit I ran across today while researching my low iron count.

  • Keith

    Lisa hit the nail (an iron one) on the head. I had a friend who had a problem with too much iron in his system – drinking red wine was actually proscribed for him, to which he did with great relish. He credited his long life to following his doctor’s orders to drinking at least one glass of full bodied red at dinner – but never more than two glasses.

    He found that medications provided side effects that had robbed him of some of his enjoyment of life – so in moderation – the red wine was exactly what the doctor ordered, and ended the problems he was having with his medication.

  • Gary Rees

    Is beer iron rich?


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