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Summer equals seafood. Fresh, raw, and unadulterated, nothing compares to scoring a seat at a glistening metal bar on a steamy NYC day, the slight damp from the swipe of a recent wipe down cooling your baked skin, while an oversized platter of chilled shellfish and crisp glass of wine appear before you as a magical tonic to the suffering outside.
With classic seafood offerings like shrimp cocktail and clams in mind, we polled the city’s finest wine and shellfish aficionados for their favorite pairings. Here are eight suggestions to help you think beyond the tired but true Muscadet and oysters match the next time you slip into that raw bar stool.
Oysters: The oyster pairing has too long and lazily defaulted to Muscadet. Julia Travis, general manager at seafood hot spot Cull & Pistol in Chelsea Market (adjacent to and owned by the same folks as The Lobster Place), offers two alternatives.
First, from producer Caraccioli in the St. Lucia Highlands (from Monterey County, California), a sparkling rosé made in the traditional method, aged on the lees. “The current vintage is 2007; the wine has a nice fruit note, but is bone dry, and pairs across a range of different oyster types,” she says.
Second, Travis proposes trying Txakoli, specifically from producer Aizpurua. Txakoli is made from grapes indigenous to, and only grown in, the northern Basque region of Spain. “This wine is also aged on the lees giving it a little roundness along with its bracing acidity, making it a great choice for oysters, especially creamy ones from the West Coast.”
Scallops: Whether raw or lightly seared, plump dayboat or sweet little bay, Jaime Kaloustian, wine director at Dovetail, recommends white Rhône varieties for scallops, produced either in France or California, “as long as the wines show restraint.” (Rhône varieties such as Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne are prone to high alcohol and too little acid when in less careful hands.) Out of Sonoma, California, Kaloustian likes Anaba Wine’s Roussanne dominated blend; alternatively, from Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Southern Rhone of France, look for Château La Nerthe’s white blend.
Shrimp Cocktail: This legendary dish that teeters between trendy and dated (and when executed perfectly, always hard to turn down) is composed of chilled shrimp perched above a pool of tomato-based sauce. Alexander LaPratt, MS, the beverage director and a partner at Atrium DUMBO, recommends pairing with it an Albariño from the region of Rias Baixas on the Atlantic coast of Spain. “Albariño, such as the Pazo de Señoráns, has relatively high acidity which goes well with the acid found in the sauce,” he says. “The wine also has flavors of grapefruit and lemon, which complements the coldness of the shrimp as well as the lemon diners often squirt onto the prawns.”
Ceviche: Although ceviche comes in a wide range of styles — some piquant with chili pepper, others mellow — the essence of the dish is raw fish marinated in citrus, predominantly lime juice. Rebecca Banks, wine director for Keith McNally’s restaurants, including French bistro Balthazar, suggests Chenin Blanc from Vouvray in the Loire Valley. “Chenin Blanc’s racy acidity and high-toned citrus notes are the perfect complement to raw fish, shrimp, etc.,” she says. “A dry Vouvray such as Foreau Domaine du Clos Naudin Sec (vintage 2006 if you can find it) shows briny notes, wet rock, and lemon and lime, that can stand neck in neck with the similar notes in the ceviche without competing for flavor.”
As an alternative to wine, Kaloustian likes sake and recommends trying Dewatsuru Kimoto Junmai.
Clams: Cockles. Littlenecks. Steamers. The elegant razor. All manner of clam can be found at the modern seafood joint these days. Travis weighs in on the wine: “For clams, I think you need a bit more sumptuous wine than you would use for oysters. I’m really into Greek wines at the moment, and I would say that the Gai’a Assyrtiko from Santorini is currently one of my favorites — it has awesome salinity and a nice viscosity. Since clams can have more chew to them, you need a more substantial wine, and this one has great notes from the ocean as well as a nice body.”
Lobster: Long considered the king (or queen) of the plat des fruits de mer, Banks likes lobster with a Chardonnay from Pouilly-Fuissé: the Hors-Classe Les Ménétrières from Domaine Ferret. “The buttery notes in this ripe wine from the Mâcon region of Burgundy, France, can stand up to the richness of lobster, while the wine’s bright acidity leaves the palate feeling refreshed,” she says.
Octopus Carpaccio: Although not quite a “classic” by American standards, thinly sliced octopus drizzled with olive oil has a longer history at the Greek and Mediterranean table than the U.S. has had its Constitution. Travis, fittingly, goes Greek with this dish and recommends Moschofilero: “I’d opt for delicate and lean. The Domaine Spiropoulos Moschofilero offers a really nice minerality and a touch of floral notes, but finishes super clean and almost ethereal, elegant, and delicate to complement the octopus.”