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An Alsatian with that Crustacean?
A Trilogy of Made-in-Heaven Lobster Matches

© Michael Vaughan 2007

National Post Weekly Wine & Spirits Columnist
Saturday, May 19, 2007

To see this article as it appears in the National Post click here 

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With the Victoria weekend fireworks in the air, it's time to kick start your taste buds with a cool Alsatian. No, I am not talking about that lovable dog's wet nose, but those delightful aromatic wines originating in this tiny outpost of northeastern France. It was almost a year ago that I provided National Post readers with an update of best buys. "What a difference a year makes" echoes in my years as I taste many of the vastly superior 2005s, which are now hitting the LCBO shelves.

Of course, wine without food isn't much fun. At the top of my Victoria weekend food chain is first-of-the-season, Canadian east coast, hard-shell lobster, which is at its absolute peak being chock full of sweet meat. There are dozens of ways to prepare a lobster, each one calling out for a different matching wine. Fortunately, Alsace offers an extensive choice of varietally-labeled whites varying from light, crisp and oak-free to rich, sweet and complex. While most are white, there is even the occasional Pinot Noir.

Trying to find the perfect match meant some serious tastings. First up was the plain and simple home boil served with melted butter (tip: By using the bbq to boil the lobsters you will keep pungent odours out of the house). It was interesting that the spicier wines like Muscat and Gewurztraminer seemed just a tad too sweet and flavourful zapping the natural sweetness of the lobster. The drier, elegant flavours of fresh Alsatian Riesling, however, shone through.

Both two remaining Alsace Rieslings on the LCBO general list scored well. When served chilled, it's a toss up between the dry, crisp, minerally, ripe lemon-melon, apple tinged Leon Beyer 2005 Riesling (81471) at $15.40 and the slightly brighter, albeit lighter, melon-lemon-apple flavours of Pierre Sparr 2005 Riesling (618546) at $14.15 a la screwcap. Personally, I find Beyer's classier Riesling flavours are worth the extra $1.25.

One of my favourite lobster preps is Chinese style, stir fried with ginger and scallions. This isn't something I do at home, so I had the alcohol-free Congee Star (900 Don Mills Road, Unit 12 - click here to see) prepare this tasty speciality (only $16.75 per lobster item N3). We then plumbed the depths looking for that perfect match. The first sip of spicy Gewurztraminer hit the spot.

While there may be superior, pricier selections at the LCBO, the two remaining general list selections worked with this dish. Both the smooth, spicy, honeyed Pierre Sparr 2005 Gewurztraminer (373373) at $16.15 (screwcap) and the slightly firmer Dopff & Irion 2005 Gewurztraminer (81463) also at $16.15 are very good with fine, floral, lychee flavours. A word of advices not everybody adores the distinctive, perfume of this grape, drier Rieslings also will do the trick.

Moving up the food chain, I had Executive Chef Jean-Pierre Challet (or JP for short) at The Fifth Grill (225 Richmond Street West at Duncan - - click here to see) spin his lobster magic. Sommelier Christian Huot has a number of fine Alsatian whites on the wine list, including the succulent Domaine Weinbach 2003 Cuvée Laurence Gewurtztraminer at $140 a bottle.

While a number of Weinbach wines are still available in Vintages, none of 15 Classics listings have been presented to wine writers due to whimsical views held by Vintages management. What a shame, because when I visited the property last year, I was astounded by its quality.

Domaine Weinbach , meaning "wine brook" is named after the little stream meandering through its vineyards. Located at the foot of the grand cru Schlossberg hill, this gem was established in 1612 by Capuchin monks, extends over 5 hectares and is surrounded by monastery walls. It is owned/operated by Colette Faller, who carried on after her husband Theo died in 1979, assisted by her two charming daughters Catherine and Laurence. Catherine is involved with sales, while Laurence, who does the winemaking, visited Toronto in 2001 at the first Women in Wine event. A few of their wines are still available at Vintages - to see the list click here.

JP is no shrinking violet when it comes to lobster and prepares it a number of ways at The Fifth. I was smitten by his sublime, freshly-poached, tender lobster served gently chilled with a symphony of accompaniments, including a faintly bitter, black olive tepenade along with Indian-spice-infused citrus sections and brilliant, creamy, avocado-based tropical fruit salad. Sommelier Huot married this dish with Domaine Weinbach 2004 Pinot Noir Reserve (21022) a $39.95, a previously untasted Vintages ISD (in store discovery) released February 17. Surprisingly the wonderful cacophony of flavours married perfectly with the wine's fine, dry, red cherry fruit.

It is worth noting that for every bottle of Alsace sold, $2 will be contributed to Second Harvest until May 26.

Michael Vaughan's Top 7 Alsace Recommendations Currently Available in Vintages

Domaines Schlumberger 2004 Pinot Gris Spiegel Grand Cru 2004
Honeyed Melon **/**+ (out of ***)
($29.95 - Vintages - ISD #723379 - January 5, 2007)
Medium light yellow colour. Fairly intense, slightly sweet, honeyed, ripe melon nose. Sweet, honeyed, ripe melon flavours with a lingering finish.

Cave d'Obernai 2005 Kobus Gewurztraminer
Very Spicy *+/** (out of ***)
($16.95 - Vintages - #21493 - February 3, 2007)
Very light yellow colour. Fairly intense, very spicy, sweetish, honeyed, lychee nose. Bright, light to medium-light bodied, flavourful, very spicy, honeyed lychee flavours with a lingering finish. At peak.

Dopff & Irion 2004 Gewurztraminer La Cuvée Rene Dopff
Elegant Spicy Lychees ** (out of ***)
($26.95 - Vintages - #21352 - March 3, 2007)
Light straw colour. Fairly intense, classy, rather spicy, ripe melon nose with some hints of Muscat and lychee. Honeyed, just off dry, spicy, medium to medium-light bodied, attractive, ripe melon and gentle lychee flavours with a lingering finish.

Gustave Lorentz 2002 Gewurztraminer Altenberg de Bergheim
Grand Cru
Smoky Lychees ** (out of ***)
($29.95 - Vintages - #21311 - April 14, 2007)
Medium deep yellow colour. Complex, intense, spicy, pear purée nose with slight hints of corn syrup. Very slightly sweet, medium to medium-full bodied, intense, quite spicy, succulent, ripe melon-lemon-pear flavours with a lingering, slightly smoky finish. Try with Thai or spicy Indian cuisine.

Pierre Sparr 2004 Pinot Gris Réserve
Ripe Apple-Melon Purée ** (out of ***)
($16.95 - Vintages - #983395 - April 28, 2007)
Light straw colour. Quite elegant, gently honeyed, spicy, lychee tinged, ripe apple-melon purée nose. Attractive, very gently spicy, medium to medium-light bodied, harmonious, ripe melon-apple purée flavours with a lingering, refreshing finish. Unoaked and fruit driven. A repeat shipment of the 2004 released on June 10, 2006. Down from $17.95 and seems to be superior to the previous shipment.

Dopff au Moulin 2003 Gewurztraminer de Nos Domaines
Sweet Honeyed Lychees ** (out of ***)
($24.95 - Vintages - #28100- April 28, 2007)
Bright light yellow colour. Intense, very spicy, slightly smoky, lychee-driven nose. Smooth, only medium-light bodied, very slightly sweet, honeyed, lychee flavours with a lingering finish. Very pleasant and perhaps a bit soft in mid palate. Ready to enjoy.

Dopff & Irion 2003 Riesling Schoenenbourg de Riquewihr
Grand Cru
Classy ** (out of ***)
($25.95 - Vintages - #21261- May 12, 2007)
Fairly deep straw colour. Mineral driven, complex, slightly nutty, baked lemon nose. Dry, crisp, bright, medium bodied, fairly well structured, ripe lemon flavours with a schisty, mineral driven, crisp finish. Great with seafood. 

See Michael Vaughan's National Post feature
Discovering Alsace - Challenges in Buying the Best
Saturday, July 8, 2006
Click Here


A Survivor's Guide to the King of Crustaceans
National Post columnist Michael Vaughan
Updated Saturday, May 19, 2007

It's a beautiful thing - a freshly caught, perfectly cooked, plump, tender, sweet lobster. For some reason the best time to buy seems to have been a lobster lover's best-kept secret. And the time is now - time to dig into the onslaught of the first hard shell lobsters of the season which are currently arriving daily on our East Coast shores.

The current crop of homarus Americanus is, without question, the plumpest and sweetest tasting of the entire year! Unlike their soft-shelled, water-filled cousins that appear in August, these healthy specimens are crammed with flavourful meat - almost twice as much (27% by weight vs. 15% for the summer soft-shell lobsters)! The perfect size is the 1-1/2 pounder (called "halves"). Anything between 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 lb is referred to as a "select". They're traditional May 1st appearance was delayed this year meaning that prices as of last week were still as high as $17+ high for older "pounded" lobsters. But as the east coast fisheries finally opened, prices are now starting to come down!

So which lobster is best? Past comparative blind east coast lobster tastings (PEI vs. NS vs. NB vs. NFLD) finds me preferring PEI, and even perhaps the PEI north shore as opposed to the south shore. The reason? Lower north shore water salinity (due to ice and river run-off) means that the lobster actually contains less salt and seem to taste sweeter.

If you're a tail fan, go for the Nova Scotia lobsters, which have larger tails and more meat (their shells have a dark greenish-black colour). On the other hand, if the claw meat turns you on, then Newfoundland "lobbies" with their huge claws and smaller tails will be your crustacean of choice. You will also notice that one claw is bigger than the other because a lobster is always left or right-handed (or clawed if you will), never ambidextrous! The larger claw is the crusher, so beware - pick it up from the top, head aimed away from you, at the back of the body where the tail begins. If in doubt, use tongs.

Unfortunately, it isn't easy to get appellation controlée lobsters because many of today's middlemen don't know where they actually come from. A supplier in NS may, for instance, repackage cheaper NFLD lobsters for shipment to Toronto. After all, who is going to know? Add to this, the fact that fishmongers are not always known for their honesty - "ya, sure everything's fresh and you want PEI, sure we've got PEI."

Last weekend's $7.99 fresh lobster sale at Dominion didn't last very long. I advised FBTI supporters to "move quickly" for the best price of the year. Most didn't move quickly enough. I bought two of the last remaining dozen live lobsters at the mega Keele/St. Clair store on Saturday at 9:15 am. By the time I got to the Front & Church at 10:30 am, all the live lobsters had flown the coop. I was told that there would be no more available for the remainder of the weekend, which isn't quite true as stores were supposed to receive three 25 lb boxes each day. Of course, no rain cheques. Lots of unsold cooked lobsters (now frozen) are still available at certain Dominion stores at $7.99 lb. Do retailers have any obligation to order decent quantities? To run out of an advertised product between midnight and 10 am (a 48-hour sale) seems wrong. Meanwhile, prices at nearby "too good to be true" Loblaws and St. Lawrence Market seafood outlets were $16.99 or more. Note that Loblaw's special on cooked canners at $5.99 each (last weekend) is no big deal (it translates into about $12 lb with a low meat yield on these tiny lobsters). Hopefully, prices will fall next week, but don't hold your breath.

Michael Vaughan's May 19th Lobster Price Update
mostly from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and/or Newfoundland
but no PEI yet
(remember call first)

Best High!
Pisces Gourmet-Seafood Specialty Shop - $17.99 ($18.99 cooked)
1103 Yonge (416-921-8888)

Loblaws - $15.99 (call first)

Dominion - $15.99/$14.99 ($7.99 cooked/frozen)
* out-of-stock most stores *
197 Front St East (416-703-9393)

Sobeys - $14.99 ($4.99 canners each)
207 Queens Quay (416-364-7627)

Mike's Fish Market - $15.99
93 Front Street East (416-368-0876)

Seafront Fish Market - $15.99
93 Front Street East (416-365-0086)

Domenic Fish Market - $15.99
93 Front Street East (416-368-1397)

Sobeys - $14.99 ($4.99 canners each)
207 Queens Quay (416-364-7627)

New Seaway Fish Market - $14.99
195 Baldwin Street (416-593-5192)

Mike's Fish Market - $14.99 / $8.99 cooked
55 Vansco Road, Etobicoke (416-255-1522)

Big Fish Market - $14.99
765 The Queensway, Etobicoke (416-259-1585)

City Fish Market - $13.99
2929 Dufferin, North York ( 416-256-7373)

Bergon Lobsters - $12.99 (1 lb) to $14.79
50 Don Park Road, Markham (905-475-6374)

Bill's Lobster Fish Market - $12.99 (cooked $10.99)
599 Gerrard Street East (416-778-0943)

Diane Seafood Delight - $11.99
2101 Lawrence Avenue East, Scarborough (416-288-9286)

Fisherman's Brother - $11.95 New Brunswick
71 Glen Cameron Road, Thornhill (905-707-8326)

Best Buy!
Seaport Merchants -
$9.95 (1 lb) / $10.99 larger
1101 Victoria Park Avenue, Scarborough (416-755-9960)

When buying lobster, make sure that it has no odour (especially from the joint between the tail and the body) and keep it wrapped in damp newspaper in the fridge until you're ready to drop it into boiling salted water. This, according to the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare in Britain, is the most humane way of killing a lobster. Others, however, stand by the lobster lullaby which entails putting the critter "to sleep" in a pan filled with cold salted water which is brought to a boil. Trying to keep it alive by putting it in fresh water will cause it to suffocate and die.

Lobsters have to be thoroughly cooked so that the tasty roe turns from black to red and tomalley or liver turns green. Remember to try and keep a high ratio of boiling water to lobsters because dumping a large number of lobsters into a small pot will slow down the cooking process. When cooked, I try to neatly split the lobsters in half (bottom side up) with a large sharp knife and, if necessary, with the help of a hammer on a thick plastic cutting board preferably outside. I also pre-crack the claws. I do this outside as well so that the juices don't spray around the kitchen. Failing that, use a discarded clean towel to cover the lobster to reduce the odour enhancing splash effect. Keep in mind that "halves" take about 15 minutes to cook, while a "quarters" about 12 minutes.

Tiny cooked lobsters are not always a not a good buy, even at the considerably low prices. I have often seen illegal tiny cooked lobsters being sold en masse over the counter at well-known Toronto grocery stores. The seafood managers of these operations should know better. There also are a number of key questions when it comes to a cooked lobster. How fresh were they when cooked? A fresh dead lobster can still be good! Also, how long ago were they cooked? This is when the smell test is critical - stay away from anything with any ammonia odour. A second clue is crumbly inelastic meat. When fresh lobster meat should be like a tender cooked chicken breast. Finally a limp tail is also a bad omen - look for a tightly curled tail.

As for the perfect garnish, my choice is simply warm melted unsalted butter. You can always add a touch of Maldon sea salt and/or pepper to taste or even a drop of lemon. Bon Appetite.



2001 - 2007 Tasting Note Database
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