In South Africa ’tis the season to braai and if you find yourself near the ocean, slapping a fish over the coals is a no-brainer. While any fish can be grilled, snoek is a firm South African favourite (not to be confused with Snooki from Jersey Shore, but similar pronunciation and definitely less drama). It’s also abundantly available (green thumbs up for sustainable fishing from WWF/SASSI) and has a distinctive taste that lends itself to being smoked. Convenient, in a country where grilling bits of flesh over a fire is a point of national pride.
And then, of course, you need a wine to match. White wine with fish, right? Well, we suppose, more often than not. But there’s so much more. The whole point of a pairing is to enhance the overall taste experience of both the wine and the food, and we think simply stopping at any old white wine can be a bit, er, lazy.
So, what do we suggest then? It doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Think about the texture and flavour strength of the fish and most importantly how it has been cooked. Then decide if you want to contrast flavours of the fish and wine, or if you would prefer to complement them. A good example to illustrate this is salmon. A zesty, dry sparkling wine would be an ideal contrast to the oiliness of the fish, whilst a rich, wooded Chardonnay would be the complementary option. There’s no right or wrong, but it sure is a fun opportunity to play.
For snoek, our heavenly pairing is wooded Sauvignon Blanc. It has enough zestiness and freshness to quench our thirst while standing around the braai under the sun, but at the same time has smokey notes and subtle richness from the oak to mirror the flavours from the smoked fish.
It’s not always easy to tell from the front of a bottle if a wine is wooded or not, but it should say so on the back label, or easy to figure out with a quick Vivino/google search. If you’re at a loss, our two top picks are Marianne Sauvignon Blanc made by talented young winemaker Jos Van Wyk (he even won a gold medal for it at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show, woohoo!) and Lismore Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc crafted by the equally talented Samantha O’Keefe, in slightly cooler Greyton.
Top tip? If like us you’re no fisher(wo)man, purchase your snoek as fresh as possible at your local fishmonger. And mind the bones!
Words and images: Kristen Duff