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Dec 23, 2008
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Wine With . . . Maryland Crab Soup

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

Regional crab soup recipes abound in the United States.  Among the many interpretations of this national culinary treasure are crab bisque, crab chowder, cream of crab, and the she-crab soup that's favored in South Carolina.  But where we live, Maryland Crab Soup is what it's all about. 

The thing that distinguishes Maryland's version of crab soup, in addition to generous portions of flavorful Chesapeake lump crabmeat, is that it is tomato-based--think of this as a delicate crab-spiked minestrone.  The soup's basic ingredients include onion, celery, minced garlic, cubed potatoes, carrots, lima beans, corn, and tomatoes.  Chicken stock may or may not be included, and the addition of a pinch of Old Bay seasoning is standard, although--full disclosure--we're not crazy about its aggressive flavor ourselves. We do like the fact that any Maryland Crab Soup worth the title finishes on a spicy note of cayenne pepper, Tabasco, or other hot sauce--not a blistering amount, mind you, but just enough to jolt the taste buds into awareness. 

What wine you drink with this soup depends a lot on whether it's being served as a first course, or as the centerpiece of a casual dinner accompanied, perhaps, by a green salad and loaf of crusty bread.  If it's the opening salvo to an elegant dinner party, sparkling wine may not be the absolute perfect choice for accenting the soup's flavors, but Champagne or Prosecco are both pretty good with it as long as you select a wine that is fruity rather than fully brut.  There's certainly no doubt that starting a meal off with bubbles sets a festive tone.

When the soup is occupying a more substantial position on the menu, it demands a more substantial wine--and the more sweet fruitiness inherent in the wine the better.  Bold flavors united all of the wines that we liked best with the soup.  The wine's body can be light and delicate, but to do the soup justice its flavors must be upfront so as to balance the dominant sweet, juicy, vegetable-infused flavors of tomatoes, and the richness of crabmeat.

If you have any food and wine pairings that you think are outstanding, or if you've encountered any glaring mismatches, we'd love to hear from you.  Drop us a line at winewith@winereviewonline.com




Approx. Price



Château d'Aqueria, Tavel (France) Rosé  2007 (Imported by Kobrand Corporation)






A classic Tavel, combining bright strawberry-scented fruit with echoes of dried herbs and savory spice, this wine accented all the sweet elements in the soup--not just the crab, but also the tomato-rich broth and the corn.  Even on a cold, wintry evening, it tasted summery.




Chaddsford, Pennsylvania (USA) 'Proprietor's Reserve White' 2007







A blend of French-American hybrid grape varieties (Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, and Vignoles), this wine seemed initially to be too light-bodied for what after all is a fairly hearty soup.  What made the match work, though, was the wine's bold sweetness.  Its array of forward fruit flavors and floral aromas were not at all shy, and because the dish in question was itself liquid, the wine's fairly delicate texture was in no sense problematic.




Chehalem, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Chardonnay 'Inox' 2007





This unoaked Chardonnay ("inox" comes from the French for "stainless steel") seems simultaneously crisp and ripe.  Its freshness helped the pairing taste lively, while its ample richness provided satisfying depth.




Kali Hart Vineyard, Monterey County (California) Chardonnay 2007




Definitely marked by tropical fruit flavors, particularly those resembling pineapple, this youthful but full-fleshed Chardonnay succeeded because it tasted sumptuous.  As with all the successful matches, its core of sweet fruit paired particularly well with the sweet elements in the soup.




Koonowla, Clare Valley (Australia) Shiraz 2004 (Imported by Southern Starz)





The one red wine we are recommending, this Shiraz certainly tasted bold, but somewhat to our surprise, did not overwhelm the dish.  This may be because Maryland Crab Soup is itself marked by forceful flavors, but it also may be because this particular wine seemed especially well-balanced.