28 June 2013

Lobster & Wine Pairing

I recently received a package of samples from LobsterAnywhere.com, a New England supplier of Maine lobster and other regional delicacies. They have some great gift combinations available, and keep in mind that the prices include overnight shipping anywhere in the United States. I got a pair of North Atlantic tails (200g/7oz each, and not the Caribbean rock lobster tails you see in this part of the country), a pint of clam chowder, and a small key lime pie. Everything arrived still frozen, a great testament to proper packaging. The box made a trip from Lowell, MA to Memphis, TN in the dead of summer with a properly packed styrofoam container and the right amount of dry ice.

Julia and I started out with the rich and creamy chowder, which was the best I've had since visiting Boston back in 2005. The potatoes managed to remain in perfect cubes without being mushy, and there were large chunks of clam meat present. The frozen soup is shipped in a plastic pouch that can be warmed up in a pan of hot water, though I let it thaw naturally in the fridge and warmed it up on a low setting in the microwave. (And I gave my bowl a few dashes of hot sauce for good measure.)

In the past I've either steamed or grilled tails whole, but this time I decided to try the proper butterfly or piggyback preparation. Simply cut the top of the tail down to the end, crack open a bit, and gently perch the meat (still attached) on top. It not only looks elegant but elevates the meat so that it does not sit in liquid during cooking. 10 minutes at 200°C/400°F is all it took, though some prefer to baste beforehand with clarified butter, paprika, and other seasonings.

The tail was amazingly tender, sweet, and delicate. Not rubbery in the slightest, and a far milder and gentler experience than any lobster tail I've had in the past. I will also note that they arrived deveined and cleaned, and no real prep beyond splitting the shell was required on my part.

The key lime pie came from the Ever So Humble® Pie Company of Walpole, Massachusetts. A crumbly graham cracker crust with a rich filling, and just the right balance of tart and sweet. Since I don't have much of a sweet tooth, I had only intended to have a quarter of the little five-inch pie, but ended up eating half of it.

What wines to serve with such a meal? My favorite wine to pair with any sort of shellfish is Sancerre. It's great with lobster, but truly shines with oysters and scallops. Lately I've also been turned onto Alsatian Pinot Gris with shrimp, and when we're talking about a big crawfish boil, if I'm not drinking beer I like an inexpensive sparkling wine like Prosecco. In general, I want something that performs well when cold (since I'm usually the one steaming or grilling or broiling), has bright acidity, and if there's a touch of stony minerals, even better. For a clambake or any other casual "hands-on" seafood dining, skip the wine glasses and drink out of tumblers or whatever is handy. (You can also check out some prior posts on lobster rolls and shrimp grits cooked in lobster stock.)

For this particular meal I went with Italian whites. I served the wines of Mazzoni, a new partnership between the Franceschi family of Montalcino and the Terlato family of Napa.

2011 Mazzoni Pinot Grigio
100% Pinot Grigio
$20, 13.5% abv.

Ripe apricot aromas and flavors dominate with a big, round body. This is not one of your watery, weak Pinot Grigio bottles, but rather a fairly substantial white wine with good acidity. I found it to work well with the clam chowder, and it held up well with the black pepper and hot sauce.

2011 Mazzoni Bianco di Toscana
90% Vermentino, 10% Chardonnay
$20, 13% abv.

This was a more gentle wine with a light peach profile, slightly musky undertones, and a bright acidic finish. Just a little touch of minerals underneath provided some well-enjoyed depth, and overall it had the right balance of characteristics to go well with the lobster tail.

Note: These wines and the food were provided as samples.

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