A loaded clambake is one of the iconic meals of summertime: Boiled or steamed lobsters (preferably in seawater) with golden clarified butter, buckets of clams and mussels, shell-on shrimp, freshly shucked corn on the cob, boiled potatoes, smoked sausage, crusty bread and something to wash it all down. Something…but what? And how much do you spend? White wine pairs famously well with seafood, but rosé is practically the mascot of summer imbibing. Could red wine possibly join the party? For a question with this much at stake, we asked Brooklyn wine authority Alex LaPratt, the borough’s only master sommelier.
A wine you may not be familiar with but hits every pairing note you’re looking for is Verdejo, a Spanish white. LaPratt recommends Protos and Campo Alegre from Spain’s renowned Rueda winemaking region, where Verdejo has been produced for more than a thousand years. “I think these wines show better with food than on their own,” says LaPratt. “I like crisper, lighter, more refreshing, higher-acid, less-oaked wines in the summer. When you think about lobster, especially its texture, Verdejo is what I’d reach for — nice and cold to heighten the acid.”
Its flavor profile includes lots of lemon, which complements the lobster and shrimp. You’ll also taste minerality and crystallized salt from the high-elevation lime and marine-rich soil, which accentuates the sea air around you, and a high acidity that cuts effectively through rich butter and smoky sausage. Verdejo is also high in the phenolic compounds responsible for the bitterness in chocolate that brings out its complex sweet flavor. This quality in wine contributes to an overall food-friendliness, and at around $11 per bottle, it’s an accessible option as well as a crowd-pleaser.
“I’m also a big Champagne fan for this pairing for the same reasons I love Verdejo, but then we’re talking about a completely different price category,” says LaPratt. “If you’re having a big clambake party like that, not everyone is coming with the same wine background. Remember, your guests are there to enjoy the company, food and atmosphere.”
And what if you simply can’t enjoy all that without a frosty bottle of rosé?
“It’s no secret that when the sun comes out, people go for rosé. You want the crispness and refreshing qualities of a white but the fruitness of the red, so rosé meets us halfway,” he says. “Usually what I find is the opposite: I have an overly alcoholic wine without enough acid that shows like a really flat, flabby red or a white that’s out of balance. It’s a shame because the regions that have the most warmth I find often are the biggest proponents of that kind of crappy rosé, and they’re the ones that are the most celebrated.”
But what if you need rosé with your clambake? (Asking for a friend.)
“I really like Txacoli [pronounced SHA-coh-lee], up in Basque country,” LaPratt at last contends. “It’s a very mineral-driven, very salty, lightly effervescent rosé. At Atrium, we pour about 40 percent of the imported Txacoli rosé in America because I think it’s so good, and it’s great with seafood.”
So you’re at your clambake with friends, a nice smoky bonfire and cold bottles of crisp, citrusy Spanish white wine (and a dry sparkler or Txacoli rosé, if need be). Then a latecomer arrives with a bottle of oaky Chardonnay because hey, white wine goes with seafood, right?
“If that happens, you make sure to pour it for them,” says LaPratt, laughing. “Not my go-to. It’s not wrong, and everybody’s got personal bias because biologically we all have different palates. My job’s not to tell someone I like something; it’s to find the right wine for the right person for the right occasion. If they really enjoy Chardonnay, I’d recommend a Chablis or a less-oaked white Burgundy for a clambake.”
Above all, make sure there’s enough of whatever you’re drinking to last until the last claw has been cracked. LaPratt says when entertaining, no matter who or where, the focus is best kept on the experience as a whole rather than the details — particularly in such a pleasant atmosphere.
“You know, we’re talking about conviviality, a dynamic environment of fun and food, and I don’t want to be worried about pomp and circumstance or worry that I’m ruining this wine by drinking it out of a plastic cup. It’s the beach — maybe there are no cups at all!”