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Wine and Food Wednesday
Wine and Crab Pairings—New Insights From Santa Cruz

By Stephen Eliot

Over the last several years, my significant other has served as a judge at the annual Wine & Crab Taste Off hosted by the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association. I have been more than happy to tag along, sample the year’s offerings and offer my own whispered opinions when it came time for her to make her votes…whether I was asked to or not. This year’s event, the eighth since its inception, featured a wide variety of crab recipes created by four leading restaurants in the greater Santa Cruz area.

While fresh crab and the wines best suited to accompany it was our Wednesday Wine and Food topic back in November, the Santa Cruz competition has afforded a somewhat different insight into the ways of crab and wine insofar as the plates were a more complicated and complex than simple cracked crab. Each of the four restaurants created two dishes with several Santa Cruz Mountain wineries on hand at each venue to pour a selection of more or less local bottlings. Now, the wines offered at each stop at times seemed selected with little thought as to how they really might work with crab (i.e., a few too many big-bodied Pinot Noirs, a couple of Syrahs and even a Central Valley Pinotage,) and I kept wishing for but never found a bottle of Riesling, but there proved to be more than a few tasty matches all the same.

One of my favorites, Crab and Scallop Quenelles with Crab and Lobster Veloute prepared by the Paradise Beach Grille in Capitola, was a superb dish in and of itself but was better yet when matched up with a refreshingly crisp and fruity, unoaked 2009 Chardonnay made by Savannah-Chanelle from grapes grown in Tondre’s Grapefield in the Santa Lucia Highlands. The intense, deeply flavored, chunky Crab Bisque Infused with Basil Oil from Café Cruz Rosticceria had enough richness to actually work with a lighter Pinot Noir but found a particularly good fit with Testarossa’s slightly caramelly, oak-sweetened 2008 Castello Chardonnay.

Restaurant Ma Maison’s milder Crab Bisque with Tarragon and Cognac Aroma needed Chardonnay of a somewhat lighter cut. Both the racy Quinta Cruz Verdelho made by Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard and the pert, wonderfully lively 2009 Viognier from Nicholson were spot-on successes with the delicate Crab Cioppino with Brioche Topping and the Crab and Avocado Salad on Bruschetta served up by Sanderling’s at the Seascape Beach Resort.

We have always enjoyed the Santa Cruz Crab & Wine Taste Off, but from the standpoint of creativity, presentation and overall achievement, both of us thought this eighth incarnation the best yet. Moreover, we found a few unexpected food and wine marriages that caught us just a bit by surprise; and that, after all, is the real measure of a wonderfully worthwhile afternoon. We are already looking forward to the ninth annual outing next year, and, if your interest has been at all piqued, the event is open to all food and wine lovers. You can find out more at the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association website below.

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