WASHINGTON — Growing up in California, when someone said, “let’s eat crabs,” it usually involved the large Dungeness variety, and one crab was definitely enough to satisfy the hungriest of appetites.
So imagine my surprise during my first year in D.C. when I was invited over to a friend’s home for a summer crab fest. A large steaming pot was proudly brought to a folding table on the deck and the contents were ceremoniously dumped onto brown construction paper covering the surface.
The contents, as I have come to appreciate over the years, were blue point crabs, a much more diminutive version of the West Coast crustacean I had known and loved. But as I started to pick my way through the pile — both literally and figuratively — I wondered out loud why anyone would go to all this trouble for just a few morsels of crab meat per crab.
That’s when my host explained that the time-honored tradition of picking blue crab is as much about sitting around the table, shooting the breeze, the coleslaw and boiled corn, and of course, the beer.
The beer? Wait a minute … I get that beer might be the customary go-to beverage at a crab feast, but there are plenty of crab-friendly wines that have the ability to cut through the Old Bay and stand up to the tasty goodness of the crab meat itself.
Whether you like your crabs in cakes, sautéed in soft shells or picking the blues, there is definitely a wine out there for you. Just round up a mess of crabs, invite some friends and neighbors over, and don’t forget the wine.
One of my favorite summertime thirst-quenching wines is the Nonvintage Casa Bianchi New Age White Wine from Argentina. It is also my go-to top choice for cooling the heat of crabs. Pour the well-chilled wine over ice and then add a squeeze of lime for an incredibly refreshing aperitif. A blend of 90 percent torrontes and 10 percent sauvignon blanc, the citrusy-based wine provides a wonderful backbone for flavors of peach and nectarine to shine through. The slight fizz gives a revitalizing boost to the palate. $8
If you like your pickers with a lot of Old Bay seasoning (and who doesn’t), you’ll need an off-dry white wine that can take the heat, like the 2015 Clos Chapon Vouvray Demi Sec from the Loire Valley of France. The nose shows off a brilliant bouquet of ripe stone fruits, but it is the exceptional body that makes this wine work so well with the crab and Old Bay combo. The mouthfeel is crisp and bright and has enough acidity to cut through the richness of the crab and just a touch of sweetness to offset the spicy accents of the Old Bay. The balance between the ripe fruit — think nectarine, peach and pear — and the abundant crisp acidity is perfect for crab pickers. $13
The 2015 Jermann Pinot Grigio from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy is a wonderful choice if you like your crab without a ton of seasoning. The bouquet is fresh and complex, displaying a nose of sage and nectarine and a touch of minerality typical of pinot grigio. Flavors of meadow flowers, pears and golden apple are lively and elegant as they dance on the medium bodied frame. A hint of lemon zest and minerality lingers on the crisp finish. $15
If the succulent meat is your ultimate reward for picking crabs, then celebrate the success of your labors with the 2015 Sbragia Home Ranch Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc from the Dry Creek Valley. Scents of grapefruit and orange blossom burst through on the fragrant bouquet. The slightly creamy body carries flavors of tropical fruit and nectarine, but the abundant acidity that supports all of those wonderful fruit flavors will cut through the richness of the crab like a laser, refreshing the palate between sips and getting your mouth ready for the next wonderful bite. $26
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