Stroll into an old school British pub and say “Chardonnay, please.” You’re still likely to be served a lager or IPA along with a scowl.
Fish, chips and beer just seem like they are a match intended by nature, even before the first pub came along. The dish long ago emerged from local “chippies” and neighborhood spots to find equal welcome in fancier sit-down restaurants. Yet still the inclination is to order a pint to go along.
But if you listen to Kerry Winslow, a wine educator who holds shop at Windy Oaks in Carmel Valley (and it’s wise to hear him out), wine is also a proper pairing with fish and chips.
“You want to go with a classic Chardonnay,” he says. “Chardonnays from the Santa Lucia Highlands have hints of pineapple and a toasty flavor.”
Winslow explains that the brisk fruit can tackle a rich, crackling, deep fried crust while the undertones in the wine offer support for the malty note in a beer batter, all without overpowering the lean white fish.
“I really love the Samuel Louis Smith or the Morgan Double L Vineyard,” he adds. “They would do the job.”
With fish and chips, however, you are confined by a restaurant’s wine list unless you wish to run a corkage fee. The crust does not travel well.
Fortunately, Woody’s at the Airport keeps Morgan Chardonnay in stock—not the Double L Vineyard version, but within the Winslow’s favored AVA. And Chef Tim Wood’s crew present fish that is clean and flaky, with an airy beer batter and fries that are downy pillows inside a frail veneer.
The 2019 Morgan Chardonnay offers pineapple and uncut apricot on the nose, with a hint of toasted grain. As the glass warms, fresh peach joins the bouquet. When sipped chilled, the first impression is of gentle stonefruit. But this yields to pineapple and Granny Smith, with a notion of warm spice and squirt of citrus.
Paired with the fish and chips, the wine bulks up, becoming richer and more tropical, with a crisp slice of lemon on the finish—a neat palate cleanser.
“Just don’t be putting malt vinegar on the fish and chips,” Winslow warns. “It would change everything.”
How bad would it get?
“The only thing you could do is a dry sherry,” he says.
That’s where lager comes back into the picture.