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October 31, 2010

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Acidic white wines best for Shanghai hairy crab

WE'RE in the midst of the season for the famed Shanghai hairy crab also known as the Chinese mitten crab. Once a year the most discerning of shellfish lovers get the chance to savor these delectable crustaceans. Shaoxing rice wine is often enjoyed with the crabs, however, the rice wine merely neutrally accompanies but doesn't embellish the crabs. The embellishment of the crabs is the role of the vinegar served on the side. Can the right wine act in a similar synergistic manner? My answer is an emphatic yes!

First let's look at the cross-cultural desire to pair fresh seafood with acidic foods and drinks. Whether it's the vinegar with the crab in China, lemon grass in Thai cooking or lemon sprinkled on a grilled fish in the West, historically all gourmet cultures have use acidity to accentuate the freshness and desirable flavors of seafood.

The proper white wine with good acidity acts in the same manner, awakening and helping distinguishing the most delicious and naturally sweet qualities of fish and shellfish.

One white wine from the northwest of Spain achieves this goal beautifully.

Albarino white wines from the Gaelic wine region Rias Baixas are among the best wines in the world to pair with fresh, simply prepared seafood. Albarino is a white wine grape that is believed to be genetically related to riesling. The aroma and flavor profile is somewhat closer to Sauvignon Blanc with a lively nose and bracing freshness.

It's the lively acidity in albarino white wines that make them natural partners to Shanghai hairy crab. I suggest trying the crab with the vinegar first, then take another bite without the vinegar followed by a goodly sip of albarino then another bite of crab.

The bite that follows the wine will feature the freshest and sweetest flavors. Alternating bites of the crab and generous sips of the wine heightens the performance of both. The wine also offsets the richness of the ovaries and roe in female crabs and white matter of the males, leaving your palate refreshed and desirous of another mouthful.

One of my favorite albarino wines is the Martin Codex Albarino 2008. Three additional albarinos that deliciously accompany Shanghai hairy crab are the Lagar de Fornelos, Adegas d'Altamira and Pazo de Barrantes. The names may not be easy but all these wines will make an already wonderful crab experience even more memorable.

Remember that these albarino wines are quite delicate and susceptible to oxidation so I suggest only buying young vintages, certainly no older than three years ago. Older abarino wines will lose their vibrancy and taste flat.

So the next time you are eating Shanghai hairy crab or some other delectable Chinese seafood don't forget two Spanish words, albarino and Rias Biaxas! You will be richly and deliciously rewarded.

Another ideal wine to accompany Shanghai hairy crab is Chablis. Like albarino wines from Spain, Chablis wines from northern Burgundy offer an abundance of acidity that awakens and highlights the best qualities of the crab.

Chablis wines are 100 percent chardonnay but unlike most of the Chardonnays of France and other countries, the wines of Chablis are not especially rounded or fruity. Instead, they are dry and acidic with mineral, flinty notes. Inexperienced wine drinkers who try Chablis wines often find them too acidic, but this is exactly what makes them heavenly companions to Shanghai hairy crab.

The bracing purity of young Chablis wines that have spent little or no time in oak highlights the sweet crab meat while cleaning the palate of any fishiness. The two most important factors in picking the right Chablis are the vintage and producer. Most recent vintages in Chablis have been good so pick any thing from 2007 or after. Two producers that I particularly like, who have Chablis wines available in Shanghai, are Louis Jadot and Laroche. In addition to their basic Chablis, both producers also offer exceptional premier cru Chablis wines that while more costly will offer greater concentration and complexity while still delivering the desired fresh acidity and mineral qualities. Because of their more serious nature, when enjoying the Louis Jadot Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume and Laroche Premier Cru Les Vaudevey wines with Shanghai hairy crab, please go light on the vinegar.


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