The best wines to pair with Cioppino are crisp white wines like Sancerre, Chablis and Albariño and acidic red wines like Dolcetto & Chianti. If your Cioppino is tomato-based, choose acidic red wines like Dolcetto, Chianti, Barbera or Beaujolais, as the tomato flavours will dominate. For spicy, brothy and fishy versions of Cioppino, clean and crisp white wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis, Riesling, and Albariño are ideal. For something in between, select a Rose wine.
Cioppino is a seafood stew that originated in San Francisco. Cioppino you might get in a restaurant leans more toward the fish and broth version, where you are meant to eat it with cutlery. As the fish and seafood flavours of crab, shrimp, clams, cod, mussel and scallops are dominant, you’ll want a white wine to enjoy alongside this dish.
Cioppino also contains a slew of vegetables and spices, including tomatoes, garlic, onion, fennel, herbs and hot pepper flakes. The vegetables and seafood are cooked in wine, creating a delicious broth or tomato stew/sauce.
Traditional Cioppino that is made at home will be prepared with a thicker tomato sauce and is meant to be eaten with your hands. Crusty bread is served alongside traditional Cioppino, which you use to soak up the remaining tomato sauce. This meal is so messy, and you’ll need to put newspaper down so you don’t destroy your tablecloth.
In this instance, as tomato is the dominant flavour, you’ll want to pair it up with an acidic red wine. Keep heavy tannic reds away, as tannin will taste metallic when combined with seafood and tomato sauce.
Best Wine with Cioppino
Sancerre & Cioppino Pairing
If your Cioppino is in a light tomato broth and shows up the seafood flavours of crab, mussels, clams, prawns and scallops, go with a crisp white wine, like Sancerre.
Sancerre is a French white wine made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape and features notes of grass, citrus, gooseberry, smoke and flint. The flinty flavours complement the saline notes of your fresh seafood. Meanwhile, the grassy notes complement the garlic, fennel and herbs in your Cioppino.
Sancerre is acidic, meaning it tastes crisp and citrusy. The citrus flavours highlight the crab, mussels and other seafood goodness, making their flavours stand out.
Unfortunately, Sancerre won’t be a great match if your Cioppino is spicy. Sancerre is a dry white wine and will add additional heat to your meal if you are using chilli flakes. For a hot Cioppino dish, go with an off-dry Riesling as your pairing.
Dolcetto & Cioppino Pairing
Dolcetto is a light and fruity Italian red wine featuring juicy flavours of cherry, raspberry and strawberry. You’ll also get delicious notes of licorice, smoke and earthiness that complement the fennel and other vegetables chopped into your Cioppino sauce.
Dolcetto will pair fantastically with Cioppino which is heavier on the tomato side than it is with the seafood flavours. Being light and fruity, Dolcetto won’t obliterate all those expensive seafood flavours. However, it won’t complement them either. Instead, the red fruit flavours of Dolcetto complement the tomato sauce used for your Cioppino.
Tomato sauce notoriously clashes with red wines containing lots of tannin. Fortunately, Dolcetto is balanced with plenty of acidity to not get in the way of your Cioppino Sauce. Instead, Dolcetto will inject even more life into the dish as it refreshes you with its silky acidity.
Chianti Classico & Cioppino Pairing
An acidic Chianti will pair up nicely with Cioppino that is heavy on the tomato flavours. I often suggest Chianti Classico to be paired with tomatoes, as it will have more of the Sangiovese grape. Chianti from other regions have the option of blending their wine with higher levels of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, which adds more tannin to the wine. More tannin is an issue as tannin clashes with tomato sauce making everything in your mouth taste bitter and metallic.
I can not stress enough that you want a Cioppino that is heavy in tomato flavours, as a Chianti Classico will crush the seafood flavours in a lighter broth version of Cioppino.
As Chianti Classico is Italian, you’ll find lots of rustic flavours of earth, leather, licorice, meat, smoke and spices to complement the herbs, spices, garlic and fennel in your Cioppino. Chianti is also rich with smooth flavours of cherry, strawberry and plum, keeping you refreshed throughout your meal.
Albariño & Cioppino Pairing
Albariño is a crisp white wine from Spain featuring aromatic flavours of lemon, peach, pear, citrus, apple and melon. High in acidity, Albariño acts like squeezing a bit of lemon onto your seafood, which brings out its best flavours. Meanwhile, the additional flavours of melon, apple, peach and pear are imparted upon the seafood, adding more interest and flavour to the dish.
Albariño is medium-bodied at best, but you’ll most often find light-bodied versions, so the wine will be crushed by a hearty Cioppino featuring a stew-like tomato sauce. Instead, you’ll want to pair your Albariño up with Cioppino where the seafood is the star, and the dish is served in a broth. In this instance, Albariño will make all the crab, clam, mussel, shrimp, cod and scallop flavours taste delicious.
Rosé & Cioppino Pairing
In theory, Rosé should be excellent with Cioppino as the fruity flavours of raspberry, strawberry and cranberry will go well with the sweet tomato sauce of Cioppino. Meanwhile, Rosé is also dry, tart and crisp, making it an excellent pairing with seafood. Unfortunately, the wine has always fallen short every time I’ve paired up Rosé with Cioppino.
I feel that Rosé doesn’t always work with Cioppino as the wine is a bit of a fence sitter in that it’s never sure if it’s a red or white wine. Conversely, Cioppino is rarely a balanced dish in that either the tomato sauce is the dominant flavour or the seafood is the star of the show. Thus, you’d want a red wine if the tomato sauce flavours are strong. Meanwhile, when the seafood flavours are in the spotlight, you’d want to pair up your Cioppino with a white wine and not a Rosé.
I feel Rosé would work with a balanced Cioppino dish, meaning that in each bite, you’d taste the tomato sauce and seafood in perfect harmony. I, however, have not experienced this mythical dish, and as such, I can only lightly recommend Rosé paired with Cioppino in 90% of the situations you’d be having it. However, with a balanced Cioppino dish, this pairing would be perfecto!