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Wine and Food Wednesday
Pairing With Cracked Crab

By Stephen Eliot

Today’s column might be bettered labeled as “Food and Wine Wednesday” as it is what’s on the plate rather than what’s in the glass that gets top billing, and that would be fresh Dungeness Crab. Now, we understand local pride and regional bias and would not argue with those would name others such as Stone, King or Blue as their crabs of first choice, but, when in season, West Coast Dungeness, known to its egghead admirers as Metacarcinus Magister, is the unchallenged crustaceous apple of our eyes. That season just opened here in San Francisco and is shaping up as a bountiful year after a cyclical downturn the last several years.

It is a timeworn tradition hereabouts to serve crab during the holiday season, and the biggest and sweetest of the bunch are typically to be found from mid-November until the New Year. While there are plenty of delicious recipes and methods by which these tasty morsels can be prepared, I sometimes wonder if even the most talented chef can really improve on the perfection that is fresh, simply cracked crab, lots of drawn butter, a warm loaf of locally baked sourdough and the right bottle of wine.

Here at Connoisseurs’ Guide, it is an old and much practiced custom when tasting schedules permit to bring out big bowls of cracked crab when wrapping up Sauvignon Blanc tastings, but, in truth, this is a dish that is wonderfully wine-friendly. Barring those at the extremes, such as starkly acidic dry wines that become all too shrill and shrieky when juxtaposed with the crab’s sweetness or the heaviest, most highly ripened, oak-infused Chardonnays that render the delicacy of Dungeness all but moot, most any white wine is bound to please.

As much as I enjoy a temperate (read not rife with grapefruit, newly mown grass and feline intimations) Sauvignon Blanc with crab, my favorite accompaniment of all is a Riesling that sports but a scant edge of sweetness. Well-made Riesling reminds that delicacy and character are not mutually exclusive, and, when the crab and Riesling are both good, I am amazed at just how much of each I can work my way through. I would also rank Oregon Pinot Gris high on my list, and the lovely King Estate “Domaine” 2008 comes with a note of subliminal sweetness that makes it an altogether memorable mate to cracked crab. On other occasions, I have very much enjoyed fresh crab washed down with Albarinos from Spain’s Rias Biaxas, and most anything white and Italian will quietly get the job done. The trick, if you can even call it that, is to find a wine that refreshes with its balancing acidity yet does not overpower what is an inherently flavorful yet delicate dish…and, with that simple thought in mind, common sense is what informs most.


by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:12/1/2010 6:53:09 AM

Stephen, find yourself a bottle of Francois Chidaine Vouvray or Montlouis while those crabs are in season. The master of Chenin Blanc and one of the world's finest foods, sublime.

by Steve Heimoff
Posted on:12/1/2010 7:39:43 AM

I dunno, it seems vaguely criminal to have crab from Pier 35 in San Francisco with anything other than a local wine. If you like Riesling, how about Pey-Marin? Myself, I'll take a nice Sonoma Coast Chard.

Crisp. Give Me Crisp.
by Charles E. Olken
Posted on:12/1/2010 8:10:50 AM

Steve and Sam--

I do think a well-made, crisp Chenin Blanc has an afinity for fresh crab. One such CA wine comes from Blacksmith Cellars. I agree with Steve Eliot that the leading Oregon Pinot Gris make sense as well, but most Pinot Gris are fuller-bodied on the one hand or thin and empty on the other so selectivity is required.

The Pey-Marin Riesling is clear proof that CA can and does make high acid whites. I personally find it too acidy for crab with drawn butter, but love it with oysters.

by Ron Washam, HMW
Posted on:12/1/2010 10:06:50 AM

When I saw the article was about cracked crab, I thought my name might come up. But that's how I am, always thinking about myself. I'm just so shellfish that way.

My first Dungeness crab of the season I consumed like a bulimic walrus with a bottle of Grenache Blanc from Frick Winery in Dry Creek. I had no gastronomic plan in mind, just wanted something clean to wash down the crustacean. It turned out to be a fantastic match. The second crab I consumed with an Australian Roussanne/Marsanne/Viognier--also not bad, but a bit flabbier than the Grenache Blanc and didn't work as well with the drawn butter.

Next crab is definitely getting Chidained.

by Christian Miller
Posted on:12/1/2010 12:02:54 PM

So many great crab pairings, so little time. We haven't yet mentioned aged old vine Gruner, white Hermitage, mature Semillon, Albarino or the better balanced Viogniers?

Then when you get tired of your plain cracked Dungeness, head to Great China in downtown Berkeley for killer pan-roasted crab with ginger and spring onions. Gewurz anyone? 

by chris
Posted on:12/2/2010 6:31:54 PM

When I die and go to heaven I'm going to eat the essence of California...Dungeness crab, avacado, a spritz of lemon, and hunks of crusty sourdough bread with sweet butter. 

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