Friends had invited us over for a late lunch at their beach house the other weekend, and since they approach food with the same enthusiasm that I approach wine, we instantly accepted the offer. The highlight of the menu was going to be crab cakes, which I knew would be in good hands with our neighbors cooking them up. My self-appointed job, as usual, was to bring over an appropriate wine or two.
Famed blue claws are in season right now here in the Northeast, and the boys and I had taken a small boat up into a local creek just days before in search of the delicacy. With nets in hand at low tide, we managed to scoop up half a dozen of them in an hour or so. Cleaning them and extracting the meat took a bit longer and gave me a new appreciation for folks who do that work for a living.
I’m pretty sure our neighbors took an easier route — buying a pound or so of crab meat from the local fish market, which eliminated the muddy (yet relaxing) chore in the creek. In any event, the cakes were being sautéed when I arrived with two cold bottles of wine. There was a requisite white, of course, but I also decided to mix things up a little with a rosé, thinking that something on the pink side would also go nicely with this lunch on a very warm and humid afternoon.
The crab cakes were done perfectly and reminded me that when it comes to shellfish, the taste of crab is even more delicate and delectable than lobster. Meanwhile, our white wine proved to be an excellent pairing. It was from the Wagram region of Austria, not far from Vienna: Fritsch’s 2008 “Windspiel” Grüner Veltliner. Everyone noticed its slight effervescence when first poured, a quality that underscored its refreshing youthfulness and helped to make it such a good wash-down wine for the fried crab cakes.
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Young, relatively inexpensive grüner veltliner is one of my favorite warm-weather wines and usually has just enough complexity to make it interesting without being “serious.” Fritsch’s Windspiel, which is about $13 or so, has notes of pear, citrus, a touch of orange rind and a bit of pepper that is one of grüner’s hallmarks. Like most grüners, it is fermented and aged in stainless-steel tanks without exposure to oak, which contributes to its fresh character. With alcohol at just 12 percent, it’s all but effortless to drink. Available at Columbus Circle Wines & Spirits in New York. (A Monika Caha Selection/Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York.)
Most people might hesitate at serving anything but a white wine with shellfish, but our second wine, a crisp rosé from Spain, proved to be an excellent match as well. This one was the 2008 Rosé from Bodegas Borsao, located in the Campo de Borja region of Aragón in northern Spain. This widely available wine made from garnacha (grenache) is a real bargain — I paid $10 for it, and saw it listed on the Web for as little as $7. With its red-berry fruit and slightly spicy notes, it would have been fine with the crab cakes alone and perhaps a squeeze of lemon, but it was especially well-suited to a piquant salsa that our hosts had made with corn, cherry tomatoes, onions, cumin and a generous tabasco splash to accompany the crab. (Imported by Tempranillo Inc., New Rochelle, N.Y.)
All told, the lunch was a resounding success — good food, good wine and good friends on a memorable late-summer afternoon.
Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at email@example.com
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