Smoked fish can make an entrance as hors d'oeuvres or a plated first course for a dinner party, or as part of a brunch spread. It could be trout you caught in the Sierras and cold-smoked over applewood or a side of smoked salmon a friend from Seattle brought as a gift. It might be smoked sturgeon from a deli or a plate of satiny smoked Tasmanian sea trout from the island south of Australia. The beauty is that it doesn't demand any cooking skills to prepare. If you buy it already sliced, all you have to do is lay it out on your prettiest platter with some toasts or crackers, even a bag of bagels. And bring on the wine. Smoked fish, it turns out, also happens to be a fascinating foil for the right bottle.
Champagne is a classic and festive way to kick off the party. Pick up a crisp Blanc de Blancs from a small grower in one of the grand cru villages. It's often a better value than Champagnes from the Grande Marques, and the play between the light, effervescent wine and the smoky tang of the rich, oily fish is sheer pleasure. You can pair a soft, delicate Pinot Noir with smoked salmon, but the right white wine can be a revelation. Stay away from anything too heavy: That oaky Chardonnay your cousin favors will have to sit it out this time around. What's needed is a crisp white with character, one that can hold its own against the delicate or strong flavors of the fish. A Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley, such as a vibrant, off-dry Vouvray, is a fine accompaniment to smoked fish. In a good one, the Chenin's lush ripe fruit is enhanced by a lively acidity and minerality. And for smoked trout or sturgeon, a bright Pigato from Liguria can be an ideal match. And if you can't find these particular wines, no worries. Just ask an informed wine clerk for something similar.
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NV Demière-Ansiot Champagne Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut (Champagne, France)
Sure you can spend $60 and up for a Grande Marques brut, but Champagnes from smaller, less-known producers can offer better value and inject some real excitement into popping that cork. Demière-Ansiot's non-vintage Blanc de Blancs from a grand cru vineyard in Oger planted in 1947 is poured by the glass at many top restaurants. It's easy to see why: The brut has depth and finesse, a creamy mousse, and a lively, lovely finish. Feeling spendy? Spring for Demière-Ansiot's vintage Blanc de Blancs. Look for it at Green Jug Fine Wine & Spirits in Woodland Hills, Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, the Wine Country in Signal Hill and Wine Exchange in Santa Ana. From $46 to $60.
2014 Champalou Vouvray "Les Fondraux" (Loire Valley, France)
This delicious sweet-tart Vouvray tastes of pear and passion fruit, with flowers and a hint of tangerine zest in the perfume. Incredibly silky and lush, the Vouvray's fresh acidity has you reaching for sip after sip. Les Fondraux comes from 45-year-old Chenin Blanc vines. Look for it at DomaineLA in Hollywood, Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, K&L Wine Merchants in Hollywood, the Wine Country in Signal Hill, Wine Exchange in Santa Ana and Wine House in Los Angeles. From $20 to $23.
2014 Cascina Praie Pigato Il Canneto (Liguria, Italy)
An elegant white wine made from Liguria's native Pigato grape tasting of flowers, sea and salt and with a beautiful balance between fruit and minerality and a touch of bitter almond at the end. The wine is delicate and complex, a wonderful match with smoked trout. It's also terrific with spaghetti alla bottarga. Look for it at DomaineLA in Hollywood and Wine Exchange in Santa Ana. About $18.