Red Wine Fish

How many times have we heard local wine-o friends tell us categorically that red wine cannot be served with fish? It is a malady of gibberish first experienced in childhood but that has a habit of reoccurring throughout life. In order to put this dubiously fishy nonsense to bed, Harry Niazi, of Olley’s Fish Experience in South London’s Herne Hill, decided to investigate with a group of wine and fish enthusiasts including Andy Neather, former wine writer for the London Evening Standard.  

Red Wine Tips for the notebook

Fish and chips are a national dish but find a liquid partner for this staple dish requires deep consideration. Here are the findings for your note books and experiments at home:

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The winning grape varieties were: Grenache from Australia (Robert Oatley), Pinot Noir from New Zealand (Villa Maria) and Tempranillo from Rioja (Cune).

The red wines matched with fish included Beaujolais, Spanish Tempranillo, Chilean and South African Syrah, Australian Grenache, New Zealand Pinot Noir, Bordeaux, South African Cabernet and Pinotage, and an Italian blend.

These were paired with prawn cocktail, whitebait, grilled mackerel, smoked haddock fishcakes and king prawns in a white wine sauce. This was followed by battered cod, haddock, hake, seatrout and salmon as a main course. Olley’s sticky toffee pudding was a legendary finale, but guests felt well-battered and made their excuses and left.

Lighter, lower in tannin prevail

Not surprisingly, the winners were lighter wines, with the Australian Robert Oatley Grenache - low on tannin, high on character, with hints of strawberry and summer fruit flavours - excelling in 6 of the 8 courses; a Villa Maria Pinot Noir from New Zealand excelling in five; and Cune’s gently spicy Tempranillo Crianza from Rioja heroic in four.

However, the Olley’s tasting appeared to demonstrate that each fish had its own singular flavour, texture and wine pairing potential. So, in order to maintain a level playing field, all of the main course fish in this study were cooked in the same batter (and not fried or grilled).

Risqué Herne Hill chippy; innovating & experimenting

Olley’s, voted one of Britain’s Top Ten fish and chip shops in 2019*, has a history of challenging the status quo. In 2017, owner Harry placed nine English wines for 6 months on his wine list; in 2018, he established a special gluten free beer list; and in 2018, he decided to offer guests a gluten free menu.

However, the Olley’s red wine and fish tasting appeared to demonstrate that each fish had its own singular flavour, texture and wine pairing potential. So, in order to maintain a level playing field, all of the main course fish in this study were cooked in the same batter (and not fried or grilled).

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