A combination of bright citrus, delicate minerality, and sweet fruit flavors like peach, Meyer lemon, and pink grapefruit gives Pinot Gris a tasty affinity to fish and shellfish, which are often briny and sweet at the same time. That crisp citrus cuts through fat and stands up to tangy relish, making Gris the tartar sauce queen.
Great matches: Oysters—grilled, baked, or on the half-shell—and whatever you can slather tartar sauce on: grilled halibut or seabass; deep-fried shrimp, calamari, or clams; fish and chips.
Our picks: Morgan 2010 R&D Franscioni Vineyard Pinot Gris (Santa Lucia Highlands; $18). Pithy stone fruit and bright green apple softened by creamy pink grapefruit. Ponzi 2010 Pinot Gris (Willamette Valley; $15). Notes of melon and Asian pear rounded off by delicate peach and an edge of minerality.
Once panned here because of shoddy early versions, Riesling is getting drier and better now. It’s a rich mouthful of a white with a bracingly high level of acidity for balance. Expect sweet-seeming peach and apricot flavors along with green apple and a note of minerality hinting at diesel fuel (a good thing) that echoes the brininess of the sea. The wine’s lanolin texture has a special affinity for dense shellfish, and its sweet fruit is happy with spice.
Great matches: Spicy Asian scallops, shrimp, mussels, and crab (think ginger and Thai chiles in mussels, for instance, or lemongrass and cracked crab); sushi of all stripes.
Our picks: Anam Cara 2009 Nicholas Estate Riesling (Chehalem Mountains; $19). Honeysuckle and green apples give way to fuzzy peach and almond blossom. Breggo 2009 Riesling (Anderson Valley; $25). Exuberant florals backdrop crisp green apple and white peach.
For cracked crab and drawn butter, traditional oaky, buttery California Chardonnay is brilliant. But that’s about all she wrote for good matches. Lose or reduce the oak, as many makers are doing, and you have a sip that’s still rich with the apple, pear, melon, and citrus flavors that seafood loves, but is crisp and vibrant, standing up to the acidity we spritz on our fish.
Great matches: Crab—cracked or in cakes, with lemony aioli; fried scallops, shrimp, calamari, and fish and chips; rich black cod with just a squeeze of lemon.
Our picks: Foxglove 2009 Chardonnay by Varner (Central Coast; $15). Briny, blossomy nose followed by long, gentle lemon, golden apple, and Asian pear. Round Hill 2010 Oak Free Chardonnay (California; $8). A mouthful of pure, crisp Chard fruit—freshly squeezed apple and pear.