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A ‘reel’ catch: Fresh fish and a well-priced red

TODAY wine columnist Edward Deitch shares a fall fish (and wine) story, revealing a refreshing bottle from Italy's northern Piedmont region.
/ Source: TODAY

The weather had settled after a stormy, mid-autumn night, revealing calm seas and brilliant sunshine, the kind of conditions that those of us who like to fish live for. So we scrambled to load the boat — rods, net, buckets full of tackle, cooler, bag of lunch and snacks, including those special items to satisfy the cravings of a 9-year-old (bagel, apple, carrot and Hershey bar).

Father and son were off for a liberating afternoon on the water. The fact that gasoline prices had dropped significantly in recent weeks was icing on the cake since marine engines guzzle fuel, making just about any fish you catch from a boat an expensive fish indeed.

We were going for striped bass, the most prized of inshore fish in Northeast waters at this time of year, although we knew that catching bluefish would be the more likely scenario, as these sleek and muscular predators become feeding machines and the waters almost boil with them when air and water temperatures drop.

For me, of course, thoughts of wine were inescapable as we made the hour-long trip to our favored fishing spot at the tip of Long Island’s North Fork. If we were lucky enough to catch a bass, with its mild and fleshy white meat, it would be a weighty white wine such as a chardonnay from California or perhaps Burgundy. Bluefish, at least the way we like to cook them (with an Italian accent), would demand a young, high-acid red to cut through the fattiness of the fish and the garlic and olive oil with which we would roast the fillets.

When we arrived, the presence of a couple of dozen other boats suggested that the time and place were right. The birds — swarms of terns diving down to the surface to snatch the bait driven up by the bigger fish below — provided confirmation. And so we let down our lines and proceeded to drift in the fast current.

Within a minute or so, the first strike. The rod bent and the fish darted forcefully as I reeled it in. It was a bluefish, at least seven or eight pounds. We quickly released it, as we always do except for a fish or two we bring home to eat. Another drift, another quick strike, this time on my son’s rod. Bluefish again. That image — small boy fighting big fish — made the trip worth it and is one I will never forget. It went on like this for a couple of hours until we realized that this was going to be a bluefish afternoon. We called it quits with one nice fish in the cooler and the memory of an exciting day on the water.

The next day, as I prepared to cook the fish (you always want to eat bluefish within a day of catching it), I decided to pay a visit to a fellow fishing enthusiast who has caught his share of blues, David Lillie, co-owner of Chambers Street Wines in New York. As we walked the aisles of his store looking for a match, we settled on an Italian wine — the 2006 Barbera d’Alba from DeForville in Italy’s northern Piedmont region, well-priced at $14.

That night, I poured the barbera slightly chilled. This firmly acidic wine, with cherry, raspberry, floral and earth notes (and an absence of oak), provided a refreshing and focused counterpoint to the fish, which I roasted on a bed of sliced potatoes, all of it coated lightly with a mixture of olive and canola oil, finely chopped garlic, Italian parsley and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

When you have this kind of wine and food combination, the wine will almost cleanse the palate, washing the food down in preparation for the next bite and lifting any heaviness the food leaves in the mouth. Barbera is also typically low in tannin, which makes it a good red-wine match for fish.

As we enjoyed our dinner, I reflected on how the right wine turned the relatively humble bluefish into the centerpiece of a memorable fall meal, as my son the fisherman sat next to me, enjoying his piece of the catch with a nice glass of milk.

Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at