The Feast of the Seven Fishes, a cherished Italian Christmas Eve tradition, is a delightful celebration of seafood that brings together family and friends for a festive and flavorful evening following a Christmas Eve day of fasting. The celebration is organized around a menu of seven dishes and reflects the abstinence from meat until the Christmas Day feast itself. The Feast of the Seven Fishes originally commemorated the wait – the “Vigilia di Natale” – for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus. Rooted in the rich culinary heritage of Southern Italy, this elaborate feast showcases a variety of fish and seafood dishes, along with desserts like panettone, struffoli, pandoro, tiramisu, and others. The Feast of Seven Fishes is a celebration of abundance and togetherness, and the right wine pairings can elevate the experience to new heights. Here are some suggested food and wine pairings to try out at your feast.
Often, the Feast of the Seven Fishes begins with classic baccalà (dried and salted cod). Pair this dish with a crisp and zesty Sauvignon Blanc or Vermentino. Straw-yellow in color, with fruity pineapple and apple flavors and aromas, Rocca delle Macìe Campo Maccione Vermentino from Tuscany would be a smart choice. The wine’s acidity will complement the richness of the cod, creating a harmonious balance.
A medley of fried seafood (fritto misto) calls for a sparkling wine like Prosecco, Spumante, or Champagne. The effervescence and acidity of bubbly will cut through the fried coating, providing a refreshing contrast and cleansing the palate between bites. A great choice would be Acquesi Asti Spumante from Friuli. It is made from 100% Moscato and the sweet, refreshing flavors of honey and apricots would counterbalance the oily, salta flavors and texture of the fritto misto.
Calamari salad is a typical Feast of the Seven Fishes course. For the calamari salad, opt for a light and citrusy Pinot Grigio. Its bright acidity and subtle notes of citrus will enhance the freshness of the calamari, making for a spot-on pairing. A great choice would be De Stefani Naturalmente Bianco – 100% Pinot Grigio from Refrontolo, Italy – which is packed with aromas of sweet apricots, ripe pears, and an assortment of citrus fruits. On the tongue, there’s ample acidity and stone fruit flavors.
Linguine alle vongole (linguine with clams) pairs perfectly with a medium-bodied white wine like Italian Gavi. Crisp and fresh tasting, the mineral and citrus notes in Gavi are perfect for pairing with seafood dishes like linguine alle vongole, as they complement and accentuate the salty-mineral flavors of shellfish and seafood. Reach here for Riva Leone Gavi from the Gavi DOCG appellation, with solid minerality combined with pear and citrus notes.
Grilled branzino – a mild, flaky fish – benefits from a delicate white wine such as Albariño or a dry Riesling. These wines accentuate the subtle flavors of the fish without overpowering them. I’d suggest an elegant Albariño like Davide ‘Tradicion’ from the rocky Galician coast of Spain. This Albariño has an incredible mineral-driven complexity, loaded with white flowers, honeysuckle, herbs, mint, citrus and stone fruits. It is fruity on the palate; crisp yet very well structured, and has a long silky finish.
With a hearty Italian seafood stew like cioppino – which is loaded with shellfish like shrimp, mussels and clams, plus fish such as cod, all in a tangy tomato broth – I would reach for a fruity red wine such as Riva Leone Barbera from Piemonte. This Barbera delivers big flavor and complexity with notes of spice and black cherries. Although it’s a bold wine, Riva Leone Barbera is fairly light on the palate, making it an excellent choice for cioppino.
I would conclude the Feast of the Seven Fishes with classic tiramisu. Pair this luscious dessert with a sweet and fortified wine like Vin Santo, Moscato d’Asti, or the aforementioned Acquesi Asti Spumante. The wine’s sweetness complements the coffee and cocoa notes in the tiramisu, providing a delightful end to the feast.
Feature image by Wu Yi on Unsplash.