Top Pair: Lobster Loves Riesling

top pairing
by Jeff Harding with photos by Antoinette Bruno
Vol. 25
May 2012   

The food of the South generally means a rich main dish alongside an acid component, perhaps chow chow, vinegar or pickles. Not exactly flavors that easily complement wine, explains Empire State South’s Wine Director Steven Grubbs.

Not surprisingly, there is not much of a wine drinking tradition here. And who can blame locals when a cold beer is possibly the best thing on a hot day. (And the city’s emerging craft beer scene is at the ready, creating beers made for Atlanta’s hot summer weather.) But as the culinary scene in ATL evolves, we expect to see more of a focus on wine. And if Grubbs is any indication, the good ole’ South is in good hands.

Wine Director Steven Grubbs

“Acid is both your best friend and your worst enemy,” Grubbs tells us, explaining that a lot of Southern food already has an acid component. So “Acid Hounds,” or the new wave of sommeliers favoring bright, crisp wine from northern climates, will find challenges in pairing Southern food. But for Southern somms already acquainted with the zing of acidic foods, it’s only a slight shift in direction to find the right wines. And Grubbs is helping to pave the way, showing off his love of Alsace and elevating the thirst-quenching options for delicious Southern fare.

The Summer of Riesling is upon us, and as much as the varieties of Riesling are a perfect summer aperitif, the beauty of a Riesling pairing cannot be over-stated. Working with 2012 Atlanta Rising Star Chef Ryan Smith’s refreshing, distinctly regional cuisine, Grubbs’ skill and passion are evident in his Riesling pairing.

Riesling, Zind-Humbrecht, ‘Herrenweg de Turckheim’, Alsace, France, 2006
Lobster Cannelloni with Cauliflower Purée, Dried Capers, and Grapefruit Confit
Pairing Note
Fruit notes in wine remind you of sweet fruit condiments or dessert, but the art of winemaking is to balance this with the natural acid in the grapes, resulting in dry wine. Herein lies the beauty of Riesling. There’s so much fruit that you think this wine is sweet at first, but its bright acid keeps it in balance.

“2006 was a difficult year [in Alsace] with a really cloudy spring, a hot June and July, and then bunch of rain in August and September. The grapes swelled and got a little botrytized, which is unusual for this vineyard. So for what is normally a dry wine, [all these elements of climate] came together, producing a dry but rich, round Riesling with plenty of acidity, and vibrant notes of seabed,” explains Grubbs.

The 2006 Herrenweg might not be for everyone, because the botrytis gives it a bit of funk, and you can tell from the deep, gold color that it might have a bit of delicious oxidation. But these unique characteristics of the vintage explain why it pairs so well with the lobster cannelloni.

Lobster is also often described as sweet, mainly due to its fruity richness. It is called “fruits de mer” by the French, after all. Smith’s lobster cannelloni is delightfully balanced in richness, sweet and sour flavors, and depth. Earthiness from the cauliflower purée envelopes the lobster meat, and the salty capers are a perfect foil to sweet notes in the lobster and the Riesling. The grapefruit confit is also a complex play on sugar and acid. Just as the crisp/sweet combo is well-balanced in the wine, the initial tart citrus is mellowed by the confit process.

This playful dish is almost like a dessert, but just when you think it’s sweet, the zing of the capers or the funk in the lobster pulls your attention back to the savory notes. And it’s just this back and forth that we love in a wine/food combination.

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