Welcome to Ask a Somm, a column in which experts from across the country answer questions about wine. Today’s installment: What kind of wine should I drink with a lobster roll?
Manhattan's gourmet food pioneer Eli Zabar operates a sting of New York eateries (in addition to a gaggle of grocery stores), and there to save the day with wine is Randall Restiano, who curates Europe-heavy lists that primarily focus on France's Burgundy and Champagne regions, and Piedmont in Italy. Below, Restiano dives into the world of lobster and wine, offering up appropriate pairings:
“Growing up in New York, I loved trips with my dad to Montauk on the tip of Long Island. Besides the beach, sun, and family, I loved stopping at Lunch on Montauk Highway for an insanely good lobster roll drenched in mayonnaise. Fast forward and I have become the director of Eli Zabar’s ambitious wine program. Summer arrived and his version of a lobster roll went on the bar menu at Eli's Table in Manhattan and I went crazy! Those long ago car rides with my father flashed through my mind, and Montauk's salt and sea air seemed to fill the room.
Eli Zabar's lobster roll is the best lobster roll I’ve ever had. It is made with Maine lobster and served on a toasted house-made brioche roll smeared with butter. Before jumping into its roll, the lobster is tossed in a beurre blanc (white wine reduced and infused with butter, chives, shallots, and tarragon).
At Eli’s Table, as well as at Eli’s Wine Bar ‘91 and Eli’s Night Shift, we specialize in wine from Burgundy, Piedmont, and Champagne. For me, a classic pairing could be lobster and one of Bourgogne’s most iconic villages, Chassagne-Montrachet. The chardonnay made here would be perfect for Eli’s lobster roll, but our wine list contains so many other great options.
I think my personal favorite pairing for a lobster roll would be Bourgogne blanc, or white Burgundy. The texture and rich flavor of lobster is complemented by the citrus notes and versatility of chardonnay. Each vineyard in Bourgogne is slightly different and therefore produces a slightly different wine, as each recipe for a lobster roll yields a different expression of local tastes.
I choose Chassagne because I believe it carries the muscle to stand up to this rich roll. I suggest, Domaine Fontaine-Gagbard Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru La Grande Montagne. These are among the Bourgogne elite. La Grande Montagne is an exceptional vineyard and produces a wine that is real value in Burgundy. It sits at a high elevation, with a rocky soil that adds tension to the weight of Chassagne fruit, and produces an amazingly balanced wine.
If Chassagne is not available, then a premier cru Puligny-Montrachet or a Corton-Charlemagne may be in order. Puligny always carries a suggestion of pineapple, not offensive to a lobster, but depending on whose Puligny and what terroir in Puligny, it is either crisp and light, or flamboyant and robust. Because of this roll's decadence, I would say flamboyant and robust is the way to go. Try Étienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet Les Folatières. Again, a traditional vigneron in Puligny, the vineyards of Folatières are fabled in Bourgogne and are one of my favorite expressions of Puligny-Montrachet. The wines are grown in soil that is a marriage of limestone and clay. That hint of pineapple fruit here will be a nice pairing with the lobster.
Corton, the white grand cru that sits at the beginning of the Côte de Beaune, has a depth and integrity of flavors more toward citrus, but a core of minerals that really dictates to the palate. Domaine Chandon de Briailles Corton Blanc produces wines according to biodynamic principles, and in the most natural way possible. One of their most exciting is the Corton blanc, a chardonnay grown on traditionally red varietal terroirs like Bressandes, Chaumes and Renard. It is structured to stand up to the rich beurre blanc, and the pear and wet stone qualities pair well with the beurre blanc's herbs.
If cost is to be a consideration, then Saint-Aubin might be a choice. Saint-Aubin sits as a continuation of the vineyards of Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet, and though it doesn't have the same weight as its neighbors, it has the most addictive peach palate in Burgundy. Try Pierre Yves Colin-Morey Saint-Aubin ‘Le Banc.’ Colin-Morey wines have become some of the greatest chardonnays in the world. Relatively young, Pierre Yves produces wines of clarity and depth using demi-muids (600-liter oak barrels) and minimal intervention. Le Banc is a lieux-dit (a vineyard that an estate and even others recognize as great, but is still registered in the appellation as a village-level and not premier cru, or grand cru, wine) that delivers above its class.
Returning to that Montauk lobster roll of my childhood and it’s mayonnaise-y deliciousness, I would leave the Côte d'Or behind and head down south to the Côte Chalonnaise and dive into one of my favorite villages in Bourgogne: Rully. These wines, with their bright citrus and medium bodies, are perfect pairings for this relatively lighter lobster roll. Domaine Vincent Dureuil-Janthial Rully Premier Cru ‘Le Meix Cadot’: Among the oldest houses in Rully, and growing grapes organically, Le Meix Cadot is one of the highlights of the estate. Grapes are grown in clay-limestone soils, the wine sees light oak aging and, again, minimal intervention.
Not your cup of tea? Head even further south, to the Mâconnais and pair your roll with a Pouilly-Fuissé. Here the chardonnay takes on a flowery, wet stone characteristic that would really grab the salinity of the lobster and cut through the mayo. One option, Bret Brothers La Soufrandière Pouilly-Fuissé ‘En Carementrant.’ I love these guys. They make some of the most exciting and age worthy wines in the Mâcon. En Carementrant is one of the best sites in Pouilly-Fuissé, 55-year-old vines in clay and limestone give surreal balance and extreme depth, farmed in an organic manner and produced with minimal amounts of sulfur.
For those lovers of Maine lobster rolls, I’d recommend you go for sharp precision and dry characteristics like those of Chablis—located all the way in the north of Bourgogne, and actually closer to Champagne and Sancerre then the rest of southern Bourgogne. Chardonnay from Chablis grows in Kimmeridgian soils (limestone with marine fossils) that add a razor sharp salinity and acidity to its wines. This type of no-frills lobster roll needs razor sharp precision that you can only find in Chablis. Go with Pattes Loup Chablis ‘Vent d'Ange.’ I heart Pattes Loup! These wines are truly great. Led by Thomas Pico, a true star in Chablis, this is chardonnay from 55-plus-year-old vines, fermented in concrete egg-shaped tanks and then aged 14 months in bottle. I also love the play on words for the name: Vent d'Ange translates to ‘Angel's Wind’ or Vendage to ‘Harvest.’
At Eli's we think of ourselves as ambassadors of Burgundy, and when you dine with us, we love sharing the joy and passion we feel for this part of the world and its wine makers. Order a lobster roll and allow me to pour you a flight of white Burgundies and see if you don’t agree, that Eli’s lobster roll is up there with the greats.”