Anyone who’s ever visited Yorkshire’s coastal town of Whitby will know that it’s synonymous with one of the nation’s favourite dishes; fish and chips.
That winning taste combo of succulent flaky fish, well-seasoned crispy batter and moreish fluffy chips can be further heightened with certain wines that have good acidity levels. In the same way that adding a generous splashing of malt vinegar does, which contains acetic acid.
With ‘Whitby Fish & Ships Festival’ taking place this weekend, celebrating the town’s long association with seafaring and maritime culinary arts, I’ll be picking out a few of my favourite wines that work brilliantly alongside this iconic dish.
Fish & Chips’ Origin
The very first fish and chip shop was reputedly opened in East London in 1860 by Joseph Malin and his family. While we know that battered deep-fried fish and deep-fried potatoes have, individually, been around for considerably longer, it’s been widely acknowledged that Joseph brought these two ingredients together.
As you can imagine, the dish’s popularity spread rapidly and had already reached Manchester just three years later. Its high calorific value helped fuel the working classes in particular, throughout the bustling riverside merchants’ districts.
A True British Staple
The recent rise in healthier eating, especially the vegetarian and vegan movements, has done little to dent the popularity of fish and chips. As a nation, we still spend around £1.2 billion a year at our local chippies, which is pretty staggering.
With around 10,500 specialist fish and chip shops around the UK, this is still the most accessible ‘fast food’ by far and considerably more nutritious than people perhaps realise. After all, Churchill insisted that it should continue to feed the nation throughout the war effort even during rationing!
Nothing does it quite like bubbles
My favourite pairing with fish and chips has to be Champagne. The subtle citrus, floral and toasty flavours are a winning match for the equally subtle salty, sweet and sour fish and chips. The acidity cuts through the greasiness of the dish like a hot knife through butter creating a highly memorable taste sensation.
Champagne Bernard Remy’s Brut ‘Carte Blanche’ blends 60% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Meunier to create a delicately scented fizz. Elegantly foamy, the subtle nuttiness from three years spent ageing on the lees and the palate-cleansing acidity creates a tantalising partnership that feels faintly decadent and makes ‘dining in’ the new dining out. You can spend a lot more on famous names but this, for me, is an affordable luxury that more than delivers.
One word of caution here, and this applies to any wine you choose to pair with this dish. Too much salt and vinegar will be detrimental to the wine so just remember the mantra that a little goes a long way!
A Sauvignon with a difference
When we talk about Sauvignon Blanc these days, most people instantly think of New Zealand and the pungent, fruit-bomb styles that have made the nation famous. Whilst they’re delicious to drink, they can be a little overpowering with this meal so my preferred choice is the slightly more restrained style of Sauvignon found in South-west France.
The Côtes de Gascogne is a wine region that lies roughly between Bordeaux and Toulouse, primarily producing white wines at Vin de Pays level. The region is also famous for its Armagnac production too. Alongside the high-cropping Ugni Blanc and Colombard, Sauvignon Blanc is the other key variety planted extensively. Harvesting at night ensures the grapes retain maximum freshness.
For quality, style and value, the Largesse Sauvignon Blanc is right up there and offers generous citrus, gooseberry and green apple flavours with cool, crisp acidity that balances and marries perfectly with our dish. It’s also a winner paired up with scampi, chips and salad.
Fish & Chips with an Austrian twist!
Austria has an enviable reputation for its elegant, finely-chiselled white wines that are sensational with food, and are favoured by sommeliers as a result. Riesling is one of the star varieties that grows particularly well in the steep-sloping mountainous vineyards here and, like its neighbour Germany, reveals many different expressions according to the sub-soil and microclimate that the grape is exposed to.
The Wachau valley lies in the north of the country just to the west of Austria’s capital Vienna. Close to the River Danube, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and draws tourists and connoisseurs from all over the world for its beautiful rolling hills and rich epicurean culture. The steepest and highest vineyards in this valley lie in an area called the Spitzer Graben and are the source for the outstanding Federspiel Riesling from Weingut Johann Donabaum.
Delicately scented and textured, this Riesling combines soft peach and apricot flavours with tingly limey acidity that lingers long in the mouth. When paired with the fish and chips, both seems to accentuate the flavours in the other without ever feeling heavy. Like the Champagne experience, this wine creates something quite special and is worth spending the extra money.
I hope this has whet your appetite for a classy fish supper this weekend! If you want to find out more about this weekend’s Whitby Fish & Ships Festival, check out this link.