Saturday, April 25, 2015

Crawfish Boil: Wine or Beer?

My default recommendation to anyone inquiring was, "Try riesling with that crawfish boil, if you must have wine." I had actually done this, though I usually defaulted to beer, like just about everyone else. However, last weekend an opportunity presented itself and I decided to experiment. I arrived to his crawfish boil
with three bottles of riesling and an albariño. 

They were not expensive, ranging in price from $9 to $14. It seemed silly to spend more for two reasons: 1) the spicy nature of the boil (getting spicier as each batch came out - no water change) meant I would likely be gulping rather than sipping and 2) more expensive wines are often more complex and it seemed to me that simple would be better since the flavor of the boil was so complex already (I like contrasting intense flavors and complementing subtle ones).
Overall, I think riesling is a good choice but you need to be careful which one you choose. Albariño, to my delight, worked surprisingly well but was overwhelmed. Beer is so ubiquitous at crawfish boils that it will be hard to unseat despite the fact that the bubbles in beer perk up you tongue and palate actually making taste receptors more susceptible to heat on the next bite. Some say alcohol works in a similar fashion, so wine may not be the best option either, though riesling is lower in alcohol than many other wines - more on this later.

Here are the specifics:

1) Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington 2014  $12

I have enjoyed this wine in the past and this was a good example but turned out to be too rich for the crawfish. It was fairly viscous and had a moderate sweetness about it. Not sugary but just too much weight for an ideal match. This is good backporch, pool, richer-fish-dish wine.

2) Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington 2013  $9

Be aware, this winery makes a lot of riesling, including some at this same price point that have similar labels. Select carefully. They are kind enough to put a scale on the back showing the degree of sweetness in the bottle (thank you Ste Michelle!). This was lighter and worked much better with the boil. It also beautifully displayed what I love about Columbia Valley riesling - there is a fullness in the mouth, some tropical fruit and even subtle minerality that I have never found in California riesling. (Side note: Oregon has less weight and exotic fruit but more minerality...and a higher price tag than Columbia Valley riesling). 

3) Clean Slate Riesling, Mosel, Germany 2013  $9, Imported by Winebow
Mosel rieslings are my Holy Grail. They are bursting with energy and seem to always have plenty of acidity to carry their sweetness. This is not sugary sweetness here, but it would never be confused with sauvignon blanc. At the risk of being overly simplistic, the wine is clean...and well named! The lime blossom nose and delicate, but not wimpy, palate made this the clear winner for me and the three others who tried it. Perhaps the lower alcohol (10.5% vs 12% and 12.5%) compared the other rieslings helped. Winner, and a perfect example to try at your next crawfish boil. If you don't like this with crawfish, stick to beer. Best of all, it costs less than $10!

4) Martin Codax, Burgans Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain 2013  $14, 
    Imported by European Cellars
A control wine seemed important. Albariño comes from Galicia in northwest Spain and offers a brilliant mix of citrus and tropical fruits while offering a substantial wine with medium weight and a dry finish, but no tartness. This is one of my favorites and it did not disappoint. It is a perfect summer wine and pairs well with sushi, lighter fish and even fruit (which can be a challenge). However, the crawfish boil flavors simply rolled right over it. The pairing went well enough in that the wine did not interfere with the taste of the crawfish but it didn't add anything either. As the most expensive wine in the tasting (still very reasonably priced) there is no reason to select this for your next boil. Do try a bottle though...your mouth will thank you.

Don't be afraid to bring wine to a crawfish boil. I still recommend riesling but would try to get drier versions with less alcohol. This is not always an easy task, since sugar is converted into alcohol. More sugar means less alcohol but also means more sweetness. Less sugar, i.e. dryness, means more alcohol. Germany, due to the chilly climate often has lower potential alcohol (less sugar to begin with) and can create drier wines that also have lower residual sugar levels. 
There are lots of rieslings out there, try your own experiment. Let me know your favorites for crawfish or other spicy foods...I'm always looking for new choices.

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