Expert Tip: How to Pair Wine with Crab

Drink, How-To, Learn, Tips & Techniques, Wine

Dungeness crab season is here! We asked wine expert Jordan Mackay for his recommendations on the best wines to pair with this holiday entertaining staple. Read his tips below, then visit Williams-Sonoma Wine to find the perfect bottle. Cheers!


For the last many years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited to an incredible annual lunch in  San Francisco. To celebrate Dungeness crab season, which begins in mid-November, a group of local sommeliers get together at Alioto’s, a seafood institution in Fisherman’s Wharf. What follows is a slurpy feast of crab consumption. Crab soups, cakes, salads and chowders fill the table and, of course, platter after platter of sweet cracked crab just pulled out of the sea. And every year the same debate rages — which wine goes best with crab?


Usually, the groups falls into one of two camps: German Riesling versus white Burgundy (or crisp Burgundian-style American Chardonnay, as is made exceptionally by Brian Talley of Talley Vineyards, who typically hosts the lunch). I’ve been a firm proponent of the Riesling club, believing that the purity, acidity, gentle citrus and refreshing zing of a great Mosel Riesling like the 2009 Axel Pauly Riesling Feinherb is a perfect complement to minerally, rich crab meat. In fact, I couldn’t even believe that others argued for Chardonnay, which seems too round, rich, and creamy for crab.


Then we discovered that I tend to eat crab unadorned, while most of my fellow lunchers dipped the tender meat in copious amounts of melted butter. In that case, an edgy white from Burgundy or California fits the bill perfectly. The lemony bite and creamy minerality of a wine like the 2009 Jean-Baptiste Ponsot Rully is perfect for a crab leg dripping in butter — or even mayonnaise or aioli.


However, many wines can go with crab. Here are the basic rules: The wine should be white, not too oaky, fairly crisp with acidity and minerality. Save richer, more buttery, oakier whites for lobster. Champagne, such as the Coquilette Les Clés Chouilly Champagne, or another sparkler like the Louis Drescher Amor Cava from Spain is a cinch for crab, especially if you’re having a creamy crab bisque or crispy crab cakes.


One note: I tend to avoid herbal whites like Grüner Veltliner or Sauvignon Blanc unless I’m having a crab salad or Crab Louie, since the veggies help mediate the wine’s herbaceousness with the crab’s sweetness.


But basically, it’s hard to go wrong. Crab season is one of the best times of the year for wine lovers, so break out those chilled whites, no matter how cold it is outside!

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