An Homage to (and the Perfect Wine Pairing for) Joe’s Stone Crab

As a late birthday present this week, I received a box of stone crabs from Joe’s, the legendary Miami restaurant which has its own fleet of boats to source the world’s best sweet, meaty crustaceans.

What wine was grand enough for this epic and luxurious crab feast?  I splurged on a similarly decadent 2002 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru, a white Burgundy of creamy texture and intense concentration, with notes of apples and peaches and a stony tang.

One need not resort to a wine of this dizzying specialness to flatter the butter-and-saline magic of stone crabs.  Equally compelling would have been a high-quality California Chardonnay, an Albariño from Spain, or richer-style Champagne or sparkling wine.

The meal: Joe’s stone crab claws, clarified butter, Joe’s mustard sauce, creamed spinach, hash browns, and key lime pie.

wine pairing stone crabs

Hungry for your own? You can order in from Joe’s here on their website.

For more on wine pairing, check out my latest book, How to Drink Like a Billionaire!

Sip Vicious

Yellow Wine: A few minutes after I ordered a bottle of wine at New York’s Bette restaurant, the sommelier hustled over to my table like Tony Dorsett tumbling for the end zone, setting down a plate of gouda, pears, hazelnuts, and pecans.

“You’re gonna need this with your wine,” he warned.


yellow wine puffeney


When I zeroed in on the wine — a 2002 Arbois Savagnin from Jacques Puffeney — I knew I might be in for an unusual ride.  Puffeney’s wines hail from France’s obscure Jura region, which is nestled between Burgundy and Switzerland, and are known for their aggressive acidity and fino-sherry-like oxidized quality.  Vin jaune (or “yellow wine”) is the most famous of Jura’s wines, made from extra-ripe Savagnin grapes and aged under a layer of yeast for six years, producing a style said to be even more aggressive than the less-aged Savagnin I chose.

Okay, bring it on, I thought – I love taut sips like Chablis and Grüner Veltliner from Austria, and a little oxidation rarely rubbed me wrong; such vinous voltage can turbo-charge the tastebuds and heighten the flavor of food.

But was the Puffeney so high-wattage that it merited an unsolicited plate of nibbles?  To be sure, certain foods can buff the contours of an edgy wine — like red meat’s ability to tame the astringency of a tannic Cabernet or walnuts’ mellowing effect on an overly-dry glass of Sherry.  The sommelier’s offering — and his insistent, almost apologetic rendering of it — suggested that something more dire might be at play.  Did experience teach him that diners needed to be numbed before wetting their lips with this juice, like Xylocaine before a needle or a blindfold before the firing squad?

The wine arrived, and I took a hit.  First, there was a briny smell of the ocean — bracing, but not unpleasant.  A few sips later, however, we crossed the line into something considerably more sauvage — the yellow wine’s saline tang giving way to fifth-grade memories of nose-tweaking Testors paint.  Its taste was equally disconcerting—so salty doctors should prescribe it for sore throats.

Ever the optimist, I informed my tablemates that it would eventually come around.  Give it time.  Give it food.  Give it love.

“This is a black-diamond wine, an expert’s quaff, an acquired taste,” I declared hopefully.

I tried to acquire the taste.  I really tried.  I sampled the yellow wine it with nuts and cheese, and meats and cheese, and meaty cheese.  I yearned to like it, like a neophyte struggling to appreciate the baroque operas of Handel or the disjointed poetry of William Carlos Williams or any BBC comedy.

But I just couldn’t catch its groove.  It put a pall over everything we ate — an immovable distraction, like trying to picnic in the shadow of a Chinatown dumpster.  Like one’s inaugural visit with raw oysters or improvisational jazz, perhaps appreciating wine from Jura requires several attempts.  But until I explore more, I fear that many of them are like Siegfried & Roy’s saber-toothed Montecore: rare, unwieldy, and headed for your jugular.

(Un)Risky Business: Rebecca De Mornay and Rancho Zabaco Zin

While draining a glass of Rancho Zabaco “Sonoma Heritage Vines” Zinfandel at a friend’s barbecue, I was reminded of the scene in the movie Risky Business in which Tom Cruise’s character, Joel, is visited by a terrifyingly unsavory escort.

zinfandel bbq

After Joel rebuffs her (or is it him?), the escort recommends that he call a more enticing alternative, the lissome vixen played by Rebecca De Mornay.  “I want you to call Lana,” advises the escort.  “It’s what you want.  It’s what every white boy off the lake wants.”

Well, these days, when wine is the object, it seems like what everyone wants is a smooth, spicy, easily-located red that isn’t too hard on the wallet.

Like Lana, the Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel satisfies universal desires — and, suffice it to say, it is also a tempting companion for any train ride.

Nuggets to know:

1) A burly, exuberant, quintessentially American wine, Zinfandel is immediately likeable for its flush of berry fruit and hint of pepper.

2) When stalking good Zinfandel, remember the “4 R’s”: Ridge, Ravenswood, Rosenblum, and Rancho Zabaco

rancho zabacoProducer: Rancho Zabaco (Sonoma, CA)
Wine: Heritage Vines Zinfandel
Vintage: 2003
Cost: $11
Track it down:

A lesson in likability, this lunar-dark, medium-to-full bodied wine delivers equal parts raspberries and blackberries, scents of vanilla, and a few turns of the pepper-mill.  The soft, rich, jam-infused finish earns it the wine lover’s equivalent of the video game “E” rating: fit for everyone.