The simple yet artfully executed seafood dishes at the executive chef Matthew Kirkley’s L2O restaurant in Chicago present a challenge to even discerning oenophiles—how to choose a wine that is bold on its own but will not drown out the rewarding nuances of lean fish. “By choosing the wrong wine with fish, especially flat fish, you are really at risk of losing the complete flavor of the dish,” says Kirkley.
As for any chef, Kirkley’s top priority is to hone the flavors in high-quality foods (he even went so far as to install a two-chamber, 200-gallon saltwater fish tank in his kitchen last year to ensure the highest-quality fish possible). Here, he offers his wine-pairing essentials for seafood. (773.868.0002, www.l2orestaurant.com) —Christina Garofalo
What are your favorite grapes and regions of wines to pair with seafood?
Melon de Bourgogne is a classical pairing for shellfish, specifically the geoduck clam on our current menu—the minerality in the wine amps up the minerality in the clam. I also love the earthier character of Pinot Noir–based Champagnes from Montagne de Reims.
How does acidity come into play?
Acid adds brightness and brings out the briny flavors in seafood, which is always what we’re looking to highlight, whereas oakier, duller wines can flatten out those flavors. I like bright Loire Valley wines, particularly from the Atlantic part of that region, like Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc.
Are there any sauces or spices that you should account for?
Dishes that use vegetable-based broths can be tricky. Some vegetables have a high iodine content, like artichokes or asparagus, which can throw off flavor a bit and change the way you would pair them.
What about reds—what is your ideal pairing of red wine and seafood?
I look to more delicate wines—light Burgundies, like the Premier Cru Volnay Pinot Noir, which I typically recommend with our Maine lobster with royal trumpet mushrooms, grilled potato, clam, and hollandaise de mer.