Spring brings many wonderful things: flowers in bloom, sunny humid-free days, beautiful produce, and glorious sunsets. But amid all this glory, there’s one thing I love more than any other this time of year: the soft-shell crab. Growing up in Maryland, I spent summers devouring blue crab, and I’ve never found a worthy substitute. That is, until I ate my first Charleston soft-shell crab. Locally known as the “softie,” the soft-shell crab is a complete delicacy. The right beverage pairing can take eating softies to a whole new level, whether they’re made into a sandwich, cornmeal dusted and deep fried, or lightly pan sauteed. I grew up enjoying National Bohemian beers during our crab feasts in Maryland, and beer is a natural companion, but the right wine will enhance them too. Together we are going to explore some wine options and which softie preparation will be its best partner.
Oh Grüner, you have held my heart for some time. This Austrian grape variety is as versatile as it gets. Aromatically seductive and slightly weighty, it brings the palate back to life between bites. Grüner should be given a chance by all wine drinkers, particularly those who love to drink Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Grüner is affordable and bridges the gap. If your soft-shell crab is made into a softie BLT sandwich or lightly sauteed with butter, ramps, and asparagus, this grape variety is a no-brainer.
Recommended producers: Bernhard Ott, Nikolaihof, Alzinger, Salomon Undhof
Pinot grigio. That’s right, I said it, and we are going to get Charleston back on track. Pinot grigio is one of the great grape varieties of the world. Here’s the problem: this variety has been totally bastardized. Sommeliers young and old have a hard time understanding its greatness, but that’s changing. My favorite pinot grigios come from Friuli and California. Friuli (Friuli–Venezia Giulia) is holding to tradition and continues to honor pinot grigio’s natural tendencies. In California, great pinot grigio is being made in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma. Pinot grigio should be highly aromatic, bright, and refreshing. When you pair it with lightly or deep-fried soft-shells — wowza. Pinot grigio has the body to hold up to the deep fry and offers a slight saltiness to elevate the crab’s flavor. Keep an eye out, the right pinot grigios are out there. While they are not all created equal, a pinot grigio that displays pure terroir is as sensual as it gets.
Recommended producers: Lis Neris (Friuli), Venica & Venica (Friuli), Scarpetta (Friuli), Arbe Garbe (California)
Known as rosé in America, rosado in Spain, and rosato in Italy, pink wine is what I like to call it, because that’s what it is. Pink wine is primarily released every year at the start of spring. The wine gets its color from the use of red grape skins during the winemaking process. Pink wines can also be sparkling. While pink wines made from cabernet sauvignon, syrah, or sagrantino may produce a fuller body. Most wines are made from or blended with thinner skin and higher acid grape varieties like pinot noir, gamay, cinsault, and grenache. Whether still or sparkling, pink wine is a great companion to any soft-shell crab preparation. Sparkling is well suited for richer preparations, while I prefer a vibrant pink wine with softies that have been sauteed and served with spring vegetables. Either way, the beauty of pink wine is it doesn’t take too much thought. It’s a guaranteed home run pairing with Charleston softies.
Recommended producers: Lioco ‘Indica’ rosé (California), Matthiasson blend (California), Cep rosé of pinot noir (California), Château Pradeaux blend (France), Domaine Tempier blend (France), A. Margain rosé Champagne (France)
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