The Claws Come Out


If you live on the West Coast, you’re most likely a fan of Dungeness crab. Here in San Francisco, crab is particularly relished, as to some, such as me, it’s the greatest of all the seasonal delicacies (yes, that includes you, Mr. Heirloom Tomato) we enjoy around here. And, praise the lord, ‘tis the season for crab.

One of the favorite debates in SF’s wine industry is which pairs better with fresh crab—White Burgundy (Chardonnay) or Riesling? Both are magisterial wines, both can be transcendent with crab. It’s a delicious argument to have, especially when you can articulate your points with a meaty claw in one hand and a glass of Puligny-Montrachet in the other. This is exactly what a group of the city’s top sommeliers and some of their winemaker friends have been doing over lunch every December for years now at Alioto’s on Fisherman’s wharf. Since 1925, the Alioto family has operated this venerable crab and fish house, and the current owner/operator, Nunzio Alioto is himself a Master Sommelier, a major wine degree held only by 124 people worldwide.

It was last week that several local, distinguished wine types—including master sommeliers Larry Stone (Rubicon), Fred Dame, Sarah Floyd, Nunzio Alioto, William Scherer (formerly of Aqua, now of Aureole in Las Vegas), and Paul Roberts (French Laundry)—as well as sommeliers Matt Turner (Ritz at Half Moon Bay), Eugenio Jardim (Jardinere) and Christie Dufault (Quince) and winemakers Brian Talley of Talley Vineyards and Andy Peay of Peay Vineyards—sat down with pliers and bibs. Serious wines were passed up and down the table, including a dozen white burgs from such producers as Ramonet, Jobard, Raveneau, Sauzet, etc. Some fantastic Rieslings were also present, including Trimbach’s and J.J. Prum’s.

So which was better with crab? Well, it’s hard to say there was a winner (especially after finishing four hours later with bottles of Armagnac and vintage Port). But, given that white Burgundy can be quite big and rich and that crab is a delicate meat—stay with lighter appellations like Chablis or the village-level wines from more restrained producers in Puligny-Montrachet or Meursault (Leflaive and Roulot come to mind). With German Riesling, stick with the kabinett or spatelese level of sweetness—anything will be too heavy. But make sure to get your crab before the season’s gone. It’s too good to miss.
#8 Fisherman’s Wharf
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