We discovered the docks where the shrimp boats unload when we first visited the island in the ‘70s, and were ruined for any shrimp that was not wild and had not just been landed forever after.
The shrimp season begins again this month, ending the winter’s forced abstinence. Whether they come from the Hudson docks or Bluffton Oyster Co., the Lowcountry’s wild American shrimp go well with a (not so wild!) American wine, so this month’s selections are all whites from the West Coast.
For the lightest flavors, such as shrimp in a half avocado with just a hint of olive oil and lemon juice, try the Torii Mor Pinot Gris. An Oregon physician founded the winery in the early ‘90s and recruited the winemaker, Jacques Tardy, in 2004. His wines manage to reflect the style of his native France and yet show off the character of Oregon fruit. The wine is a few dollars more than some of the more modestly priced Oregon Pinot Gris, but the flavors are much better integrated at the first taste and smoother at the finish. Some of the 2008 vintage is still to be found, and the very similar 2009 arrived recently.
To accompany a slightly more complex dish, such as shrimp in a cream sauce with pasta, the Zaca Mesa 2008 Viognier would work well. This winery has focused on Rhone Valley varietals since 1972. While they are perhaps best known for reds, they produce some excellent whites that rated highly at the recent Hilton Head Island Wine Festival. Eric Mohseni, a member of the winery since 2001, was promoted to winemaker in 2008. That year, April frosts reduced the grape yield and enhanced their flavor. Even so, there is a balance between the light apricot flavor characteristic of a classic Viognier and the smooth minerality typically found in the Zaca Mesa wine. It costs a bit more than some other wineries’ Viogniers, but the excellent balance is well worth the extra.
The Buehler 2008 Russian River Valley Chardonnay would be a good solution for shrimp in a Mediterranean tomato sauce. John Buehler, a retired executive, founded the winery in 1971. It is now in the hands of his son, with David Cronin as winemaker since 1993. Their focus is on reds, with the Chardonnay their only white. It’s very fairly priced for a wine using Russian River Valley fruit, is lightly oaked and has a crisp acidity that seems almost designed for a tomato sauce.
A more powerful wine is needed for shrimp with grits and the traditional Southern Tasso gravy, or for shrimp marinated in wine and herbs, then barbecued over mesquite. The Quivira 2008 Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc is up to the task. The winery, founded in 1981, was sold in 2006 to the Kights, who brought in Steven Canter as winemaker. They have continued the original owners’ move to biodynamic viticulture with a focus on wines with a flavor unique to the vineyard. As with the Viognier, bad weather cut the crop drastically, making the Sauvignon Blanc grapes even more intensely flavored than usual. The pure flavors are accentuated by not exposing the wine to oak, the total effect making it a wine particularly and uniquely Californian.
Last, as this column is to become a regular feature of the magazine, it’s time to invite audience participation: please send comments, questions, or requests for topics to me at email@example.com. I can’t promise individual replies, but will try to respond to as many questions as possible in future columns.
American Whites for Wild South Carolina Shrimp
Where to Find Them
(Distributors in parenthesis)
• The Pinot Gris (Grapevine) is $18-22 at A Wine and Spirit Shop, Down the Hatch, Reilley’s, and Rollers and on the wine list at Antonio’s
• The Viognier (RNDC) is $18-21 at A Wine and Spirit Shop and Rollers and on the list at Antonio’s and Sage Room.
• The Chardonnay (RNDC) is $12-15 at World Market, and on the list at Antonio’s and May River Grill
• The Sauvignon Blanc (Grassroots) is $20 at Rollers.