Mar 09 2009

Don’t Be A Crab: Red Wine & Shellfish

By Brett Ashley McKenzie

I’ve been in Las Vegas for the weekend for a friend’s wedding, and for the entire week leading up to the trip, I tried to decide where to splurge for our one fantastic dinner. Every trip we take, be it to New Jersey where I grew up or Barbados, my fiance and I indulge ourselves in one spectacular dinner.

There are no shortage of options here, of course. It seems every celebrity chef from Wolfgang Puck to Emeril has one or more eateries on the Strip. But I’ve been craving a delicious seafood dinner for weeks, and in Chicago, even if you shell out (no pun intended) a fortune at an acclaimed downtown hotspot, it doesn’t have that same fresh taste as seafood on (or closer to) a coast.

When I found a place with plenty of lump crab on the menu and a phonebook-sized wine list, I was sold. Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood in Mandalay Bay is truly the best place for seafood on the Strip.

I was delighted to see an entire page of whites from Alsace, and was hoping to find a nice, aromatic Pinot Gris (like the 2007 Gustave Lorentz Pinot Gris at Just Grapes) when I realized that I was dining with two non-white wine people. At a seafood restaurant.

As many of you have no doubt been told, seafood is “supposed” to be enjoyed with white wine… except, like so many other “old wine tales,” that one is false. The reason for that particular “rule” is that too heavy a wine can dwarf a mild white fish. Usually, Pinot Noir is as dangerous as people get. But I wanted something more adventurous.

My younger brother, who had driven in from Los Angeles to meet up with us, wanted a crabcake (heavy on the crab, lean on cake) appetizer, and a buttermilk fried chicken entree with a three-cheese (including gruyere) baked mac and cheese. My fiance wanted the crabcake entree, and I wanted the blackened Mahi Mahi served “RM” style (covered with lump crab meat and hollandaise cream, served atop a mountain of mashed potatoes and wilted spinach). Because of the rich flavors in my dish, and the sheer volume of crab our table planned to consume, I asked to try an Australian Syrah and the 2006 La Spinetta “Nero Di Casanova” Sangiovese.

The Syrah was a little too peppery and spicy for as zesty and succulent a dish as crab, but the Tuscan Sangiovese was just right. It was light enough to work with my Mahi Mahi but had enough character to stand up to the hollandaise cream.

When my dinner arrived, a mountain of lumpy crab meat sat atop my blackened fish, and despite having lived in Maryland for five years, I was literally blown away by the freshness of the rich, salty meat. The crabcakes my brother and fiance ordered were equally lumpy with generous seasoning of pepper and onion. And because RM’s MO is sustainable seafood, my conscience was as clean as my stomach was full.

Just Grapes’ offers no shortage of excellent Sangiovese, which is just a notch more robust than Pinot Noir but adds some delightful spice and fruit. The next time you’re serving shellfish, anything from shrimp scampi to a pasta with mussels, stop by our tasting bar and give the 2003 La Fiorita Sangiovese a try. Your guests who are red wine fans will be thrilled that you found a suitable red companion to the dish. Who knows; perhaps we can finally do away with that silly old wine tale once and for all.

What wines do you drink with shellfish, and why do they work?

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