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Aug 8, 2006
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Wine With . . . Grilled Swordfish

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas


It's easy to understand why swordfish ranks second only to salmon as America's favorite seafood.  Full-flavored but not oily or 'fishy,' it appeals to just about everyone.  We usually grill swordfish when we prepare it at home, and in the past we've almost automatically opted to drink New World Chardonnay with it, figuring that a rich wine should match well with a rich dish.  Our tasting for this edition of Wine With indicates that Chardonnay is indeed a good choice, but we found that a number of other wines perform just as well.  In fact, grilled swordfish turns out to be remarkably versatile when it comes to selecting a good wine to pair with it.  That versatility may be another reason why so many people enjoy it.


Grilled swordfish doesn't need much more than salt, pepper, and a brushing of olive oil to be delicious.  For our tasting, however, we dressed it up a bit, using a pomegranate glaze adapted from Elizabeth Karmel's cookbook, Taming the Flame.  It adds an attractive sweet-tart taste to the meaty fish.  Look for the recipe below.


We tried fourteen wines with our swordfish.  Only a few didn't work-either because they proved too light (a Mosel Riesling and a Pouilly-Fumé) or too heavy (a spicy Sierra Foothills Zinfandel).  This dish, while very adaptable, is nonetheless both too generous to go with wines whose principal appeal is crisp freshness and insufficiently substantial to pair with deep, tannic reds.  All the other wines we sampled, though, proved at least satisfactory, even though some did have slightly jarring flavors.  A New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, for example, tasted almost too aggressive, while a California Fumé Blanc seemed somewhat clunky; but even these were certainly acceptable.  Again, the biggest lesson we learned was that it's hard to make a mistake when choosing wine to drink with swordfish.


The very best wines we tried, those we're recommending below, were those that both enhanced the dish and tasted better themselves when sipped with it.  In our experience, this happens all too rarely with most foods, so we were delighted to find that it happened often with our swordfish.  The enhancement came from multiple sources-the taste of ripe fruit with the Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir, the secondary impression of earthiness or minerality as with the Chablis and Dolcetto, the interplay of fruit and oak with the Chardonnay.  No matter the differences, all five of these wines actually became more exciting when enjoyed with the food, just as the food tasted better with the wine.  To our minds, that's what a good food and wine match is all about.    


Pomegranate Glaze


1 cup pomegranate juice

½ cup white wine

1 tablespoon cornstarch

zest of one lemon


Pour the juice and wine into a saucepan.  Simmer over medium heat until he liquid is reduced by half (about ten minutes).  Dissolve the cornstarch in a tablespoon or two of the liquid, and then whisk it into the pan.  Bring the mixture to a boil; then simmer until thickened so that it coat the back of a spoon.  Add the lemon zest, and cool to room temperature.  Then brush it liberally on the swordfish before putting the fish on the grill, and again after you turn the fish.  (You also can drizzle the cooked fish with a teaspoon or so of the remaining glaze when it's on the dinner plate.  This tastes good and makes for an attractive presentation.)




Approx. Price



Joseph Drouhin, Chablis (France) Chablis Premier Cru 2004

(Imported by Dreyfus Ashby)






We initially suspected that this Chablis might be too light for this relatively substantial dish, but in fact the wine's cool, crisp elegance was an attractive counterpoint to it.  Thanks in part to the complexity of this Premier Cru, with its subtle notes of apple and citrus, it is an unusually food-friendly wine.




Maso Canali, Trentino (Italy) Pinot Grigio 2004 (Imported by Maso Canali)






Pinot Grigio is typically lean and angular, but this particular Northern Italian version feels soft and round in the mouth.  The dominant flavor of ripe pears was like tasty chutney with the swordfish, and was also an especially salubrious match with the light char on the fish.




MacMurray Ranch, Russian River Valley (California) Pinot Noir 2004






This Pinot's silky texture found its match in the slick surface coating the fish.  Adding to its appeal, its sweet-fruit flavors struck a harmonious chord with the pomegranate glaze





Poderi Colla, Dolcetto D'Alba (Italy) 'Pian Balbo' 2005

(Imported by Empson USA)





A dense fish, the swordfish's weightiness was perfectly balanced by the generous body of this wine.  In addition, the characteristic acidity of Dolcetto was like a refreshing squeeze of lemon.    





Simi, Sonoma County (California) Chardonnay 2005




While this Chardonnay seemed noticeably oaky on its own, it proved a splendid companion to the swordfish, with both parts of the equation made even better by the company of the other.  The wine's robust texture balanced that of the fish, while its varietally classic vanilla and lemon zest flavors were gastronomic magnets to the pomegranate glaze.