Seaweed is simply the umbrella the term for various marine plants and algae, and many varieties are not only delicious, but also extremely nutritious. They can form the base of salads and broths, and some are sold toasted as standalone snacks. It’s also possibly the most environmentally friendly edible plant there is. Seaweed pulls nitrogen and phosphorus from seawater, helping maintain those nutrients at non-dangerous levels. More important, seaweed is a remarkably efficient carbon sink: Like other plants, it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere via photosynthesis, but its speedy growth rate means it can do so up to 50 times faster than land-based forests.
You’ll rarely be pairing a giant plate of seaweed with wine. Still, when wakame, kombu, nori, dulse, hijiki, Irish moss or sea lettuce is a prominent ingredient, thinking about their various flavors can trigger some inspired pairings and encourage you to eat more of this superfood.
Seaweed is extremely high in glutamates, which create the so-called umami—intensely savory flavor—in foods such as cured ham, dried mushrooms, sundried tomatoes and aged cheese. Wines aged on the lees (the dead or residual yeast cells) share this character, so try a Muscadet Sur Lie (aged on the lees) for a crisp and saline pairing that might spur some conversation.
Many seaweeds taste primarily of the ocean, and a crisp wine with intensity of fruit can balance the brine. Made primarily from the Garganega grape, wines labeled Soave Classico from northern Italy’s Soave DOC have rich, almost creamy flavors of stone fruit, melon, salted almond and Mediterranean herbs. They both complement and round out seaweed’s salty side.
The deep green (often with rich reds and browns) of most seaweeds reflects their richness in chlorophyll, and hints at their grassy, plant-like, at times vaguely metallic flavor. The “green on green” of a grassy wine like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc might read bitter, but the Sicilian grape Grillo has a crisp and savory herbal quality while also boasting balancing rounder notes of citrus and tropical fruit.
Some seaweeds, like dulse and dried nori sheets, have a distinct smoky note. It’s a terrific match with Pouilly-Fumé. Made from Sauvignon Blanc grown in Kimmeridgien marl limestone and clay soils on the right bank of the Loire River, the wines are said to have flint or gunpowder notes. Combined with Sauv Blanc’s trademark acidity, it’s a refreshing pairing with lots of character.
This article originally appeared in the February/March 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!