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Dec 25, 2007
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Wine With Garlic Shrimp

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas    


Here's one resolution we're going to make for the coming year: eat more shrimp!   High in protein and virtually fat free, shrimp is one of the most nutritious foods available. 


Now for the bad news: it's very hard to find really fresh shrimp in the United States, and hard too, to know just how wholesome the shrimp you're buying really is.  Shrimp is the most popular seafood in the US, where 1.3 billion pounds of it are consumed annually, but almost ninety percent of the shrimp we eat is imported from places like Thailand and Vietnam, countries in which coastal shrimp farming is a major industry.  Sadly, in this case the word 'industry' is more accurate than 'farming', for the crustaceans are raised in mega factory-like compounds where prophylactic doses of antibiotics and hormones are the norm (the most dangerous of these antibiotics is not allowed in US shrimp farming, but since less than 1% of all seafood imported here is tested for antibiotics or other contaminants there's no way of knowing whether or not the shrimp are polluted in some way).  Concerned consumers have two main options for buying shrimp.  One is to get only wild-caught American shrimp (go to www.wildamericanshrimp.com for more information), while the other is to buy it from one of the handful of environmentally responsible and sustainable indoor shrimp farms that are beginning to appear here and there. 


But let's get back to the good news about shrimp.  The reason it is so popular is that it's as delicious as it is nutritious, and it's quick and easy to prepare.  One of our favorite shrimp dishes is the popular Spanish Gambas al Ajillo, garlic shrimp.  In Spain the crustaceans are generally served as tapas, but we sometimes like to accompany it with rice or pasta and make a full meal of it. 


Serving a Spanish wine with garlic shrimp seems a no-brainer, but the Albariño we tried with it proved unpleasantly sour, and a white Rioja was just too dull.  A number of wines from other countries were equally disappointing.  Oaked California Chardonnay?  Don't go there-the wine turns bitter and metallic when paired with shrimp.  We were somewhat surprised to find that an otherwise amiable New Zealand Riesling tasted suddenly too sweet with the garlicky shrimp, and a floral California Viognier likewise seemed unpleasantly sugary.  But Golden State bubbles were terrific with the dish, which inspired us to think that one way to get a New Year's Eve dinner off to a festive start would be to serve gambas al ajillo as a first course, accompanied by flutes of California bubbly, or good cava, or even fine Champagne.



8 garlic cloves, peeled

3/4 cup olive oil

½ teaspoon salt

¾ cup olive oil

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined (tails may be left on or removed)

1 dried chili pepper such as California or New Mexico

2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

2 tablespoons minced parsley

Finely mince 2 of the garlic cloves, or put them through a garlic press.  Combine minced garlic with ¼ cup of the olive oil and the salt.  Stir in shrimp and let marinate 30 to 45 minutes.  Meanwhile, cut the remaining garlic into very thin slices.  Break the chili pepper into one or two pieces (if you like a fair amount of spice, chop it finely).  Heat the remaining oil in a 12-inch skillet and add the garlic and chili and cook until garlic slices have softened, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the shrimp and its marinade, spreading the shrimp into a single layer.  As soon as the shrimp turns white (about 2 minutes), flip it to the other side-tongs work best for this.  When it is barely cooked through in another 2 to 3 minutes, pour in the vinegar, turn the heat up to high, and stir for about half a minute.  If you've left the chilies in chunks, discard them.  Sprinkle the shrimp with parsley and serve immediately





Approx. Price



Beckman, Santa Ynez Valey (California) Grenache Rosé Purisma Mountain Vineyard





Almost too robust for the dish, this wine's spicy character more than redeemed it.  The more red chili pepper and garlic you use when making the dish, the better this particular match will be.




Domaine Carneros, Carneros (California) Brut 2004







The bubbles cut the heat from the chili pepper, and the ripe apple and pear flavors provided a welcome contrast to the garlic.  Yum!



Kim Crawford, Marlborough (New Zealand) Unoaked Chardonnay 2006

(Imported by Icon Estates)






While a wood-laden Chardonnay that we tried proved too heavy (and the shrimp made the wine taste unpleasantly metallic), this unoaked version proved very satisfactory.  Its lush character was particularly welcome.





Veramonte, Casablanca Valley (Chile) Sauvignon Blanc Reserva 2007

(Imported by Huneeus Vintners LLC)






Vibrant, vivacious Sauvignon Blancs mesh wonderfully with all sorts of shellfish, and this particular match proved predictably pleasurable.  The wine's refreshing citrus flavors made us eager for another bite (and then another sip).




Villa Russiz, Collio (Friuli, Italy) Pinot Grigio 2006

(Imported by Empson USA)






A somewhat richer and fuller-bodied Pinot Grigio than most, this well-balanced and surprisingly complex wine made for a compelling match.  While we're not convinced that most other northern Italian Pinot Grigios would have enough depth of flavor to work with garlic shrimp, this one definitely did.