Wine-Lox Pairings | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

Wine-Lox Pairings

Wine-Lox Pairings

Bagel and lox. Courtesy torbakhopper

Like a toasted bagel and cream cheese, these wines are perfect with cured salmon

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A friend recently asked me about pairing wine with some traditional brunch fair. In particular, I was asked, what wine would I pair with gravlax, lox, or smoked salmon?

As with so many foods, one can’t go far wrong with dry bubbly, but these different preparations of salmon are very different from each other, and the flavors can vary from delicate and sweet, to rich and smoky. The different flavors and textures, the various styles of serving, and the accompanying menu options—breads, bagels, toast, cheeses, capers, red onion, and the like, also means that there are a variety of other winning wine combinations to consider.

Here’s a short primer for those who don’t know their fish so well. Gravlax is salmon that has been cured, but not smoked. The cure typically contains salt, sugar, and dill, and traditionally also aquavit or vodka, and often enough juniper berries, horseradish, and possibly also some sort of citrus; it is commonly pressed a little too while it’s curing. Lox, traditionally, refers to a salt-cured belly of salmon, which is also not smoked, though most folks think it means smoked salmon. Smoked salmon is a salt-cured salmon (though it can come from any part of the fish, not just the belly) that has also been smoked—either cold-smoked which leaves it with a raw texture similar to lox or gravlax, or hot-smoked, which results in a firm, flaky texture.

When most folks refer to smoked salmon they mean cold-smoked. Popular types of cold-smoked salmon include Nova, which is from Nova Scotia, and tends to be a very lightly smoked. This smoked salmon is fatty and mild in flavor. Norwegian smoked salmon tends to be subtlety smoked, not too oily, with a mild flavor. Irish salmon tends to be similar to Nova in texture, fattier than the Norwegian, and with a more mild smoke. Scottish smoked salmon has strong smoke, and is generally fatty and silky in texture. Most folks looking for smoked salmon are probably looking for Nova or Irish.

Besides dry bubbly, consider serving young, crisp, dry white wines that are un-oaked or that have very little oak influence. The oak tends to overpower the more delicate and subtle qualities in the salmon. Some great options are sancerre, chablis, dry riesling, dry sauvignon banc provided it isn’t too herbaceous, un-oaked chardonnay, and many dry rosés (especially from Provence).

As for reds, avoid tannic and full-bodied reds, as these qualities will almost certainly overpower and clash with the fish. Instead, look for something that is dry, lean, and that offers a nice amount of minerality, like some styles of pinot noir. Avoid most Israeli pinot noirs, for example, as many when paired with smoked or cured salmon, are likely to seem comparatively sweet and syrupy, appearing almost jammy in character.

Other options, outside of wine, are ice-cold vodka, gin, or aquavit or even a cold northern European lager or pilsner. A briny and not too smoky Scotch whisky is another idea. I have plenty of friends who will balk at this particular suggestion, arguing that most Scotch of this sort will overpower the fish. While Laphroaig or Lagavulin would likely smother a cured or cold-smoked salmon, Caol Isla, Oban, Old Pulteney or, to my mind at least, even Talisker would work a real treat. Ultimately, as in all matters of personal taste, try some options for yourself and see what works.

While writing this, I enjoyed a poppy-seed bagel with lox, capers, red onion, and plain cream cheese, paired with a nice glass of Champagne Laurent-Perrier, Brut, Kosher Edition ($80). This first-rate, light to medium bodied blend of 45 percent chardonnay, 40 percent pinot noir, and 15 percent pinot meunier (different from Laurent-Perrier’s usual house blend of 50-35-15) is refined and balanced, yet fun and easy, with fine, concentrated, endless bubbles and lovely notes of citrus peel, minerals, and nuts, all with a lovely dollop of fresh berries in the lengthy finish. This is really superb champagne.

L’Chaim!

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