Historically, mussels have been the poor man’s seafood dish, popular among fisherman and sailors. However, pairing mussels with the right wine elevates them into a dinner-party worthy dish. Mussels can be either domestically farmed or harvested from the ocean floor, though farmed mussels are the more environmentally-friendly option. While pregnant women should certainly refrain from wine, farmed mussels are friendly to all diets so long as they are cooked thoroughly.
The simplest method of cooking mussels is to steam them in white wine and chicken broth with a handful of fresh herbs such as parsley and thyme. Sunset Magazine pairs simply steamed mussels with a glass of Pinot Gris, as the flavor profile of the wine balances out the sweet and salty aspects of the mussels. Grace Parisi of Food & Wine Magazine suggests pairing mussels that have been steamed in Sauvignon Blanc with a glass of the same light, citrus-tinged wine.
Mussels in Cream Sauces
Coconut-milk based sauces showcase mussels, especially when Thai spices and chilies are added. The result is a spicy, sweet and savory dish that requires a slightly fruitier wine. Richard Kinssies of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer suggests pairing spicy, sweet Thai mussel dishes with a Chardonnay or a Viognier wine. If serving a classic French moules a la crème (mussels in cream sauce), Julia Child recommends pairing the dish with a white Burgundy or Cotes du Rhone wine.
Mussels in Tomato Sauces
Tomato-based sauces hearken back to the Mediterranean regions of Europe, where tomatoes, onion and garlic frequently accompanied the catch of the day in fishing villages. Marisol Bueno, a Spanish vintner from the port town of Galicia, pairs a white Albarino wine with mussels cooked in a spicy tomato-based broth. For their steamed mussels with a tomato-garlic broth, Food & Wine magazine proposes pairing the dish with a Rosé wine.
Other Mussel Preparations
The experts at Snooth.com, a wine enthusiast website, recommend pairing Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc with beer-battered fried mussels. Dry sparkling wines, like Brut Champagne, also complement fried mussels as they enhance the notes of saltiness found in mussel meat. If preparing mussels as part of a starchy dish, like New York Time’s food writer Florence Fabricant’s seafood risotto, partner the mussels with a Chablis.
References and ResourcesThe Seattle Post-Intelligencer; Wine Pick of the Week - Matching Wine with Mussels; Richard Kinssies; March 8, 2005
Food and Wine; Albarino and Mussels; Richard Nalley;
"Sunset Magazine": Steamed Mussels and Pinot Gris
"Food and Wine Magazine": Steamed Mussels with Tomato and Garlic Broth
"Food and Wine Magazine": Sauvignon Blanc-Steamed Mussels with Garlic Toasts; Grace Parisi
"The Complete Idiot's Guide to Wine and Food Pairing"; Jaclyn Stuart and Jeanette Hurt.; June 2010
ResourcesThe American Pregnancy Association: Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy
Epicurious: Fried Beer-Battered Mussels with Two Sauces