Most Americans know sardines in love-them-or-hate-them canned form, but coastal cultures around the world, from Italy, Spain and Portugal to India and Japan, eat them fresh. That way, this small fish—actually comprising several species in the Clupeidae family—is firmer and less fishy than the canned version, comparable to mackerel. If you find fresh sardines, have your fishmonger clean, gut and scale them. Then, season and char them on a hot grill for two minutes per side. They’re difficult to overcook, so they’re perfect for the grill.
“Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not-that-good lobster.”
To cut through the rich fish, try high-acid coastal white wines like Albariño from Rías Baixas, Muscadet, Vermentino from Southern Italy’s coast, Santorini Assyrtiko and Vinho Verde (the Portuguese are likely to drink equally crisp red Vinho Verde).
Our canned sardines pick:
Wild Planet’s Wild Sardines in Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Adam Petronzio, wine director at Oceana in New York City, says, “I’m a little old school and typically pair sardines with a white wine, but I also really like pairing it with still and sparkling rosés. For sparkling, the Camel Valley 2014 Pinot Noir Brut Rosé [Cornwall, England] features a fruit flavor not masked by the autolytic flavors that add to the complexity, giving an amazing contrast to the fish. For still, I like the Eugene Carrel 2016 Rosé de Savoie, [a blend of Gamay and Mondeuse]…. Its balanced acidity lifts the fish to elegant heights.”