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Wine of the Week for week ending 15 February 2004
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Muddy Water Chardonnay 2002
Waipara, New Zealand

What's the best wine match for crayfish? Crayfish is a delicate and slightly sweet though strong flavoured food and it needs a strong flavoured wine with soft acidity to carry the flavours. It doesn’t really work with Riesling because Riesling tends to be too linear with citrus acidity that tends to dominate. It doesn’t work with Sauvignon Blanc because the sauvignon is too pungent and strong and overpowers the delicacy of the fish. Ditto with Gewurztraminer, the wine overpowers as well.

The crayfish was matched first to Piper Heidseck Non Vintage Champagne left over from an aperitif drink and our entrée of scallops and salmon. The rich mealy yeasty flavours worked a treat.

We opened a couple of Chardonnays to try. The Muddy Water Waipara Chardonnay 2002 was an immediately mouthfilling wine with its full-bodied, caramel creme, mealy oak and tropical fruit flavours leading to a sweet warm finish. With the crayfish it was almost a perfect match.

Winemaker Belinda Gould has obviously lovingly crafted the wine. The notes say it has been 100% barrel fermented with native yeasts and full malolactic fermentation. 10% of the oak was new. It carries about 4 grams of residual sugar, alcohol of 13.75% and costs about $29 a bottle.

Muddy Water Waipara Chardonnay 2002 is nice to drink on its own and great with a variety of foods. With its screwcap wine seal closed after each pouring, it lasted four days and was matched to an array of foods including lamb, chicken and salmon. The slight residual sweetness makes it a very appealing style and certainly that touch of residual sugar is what makes it a winner with crayfish. Another wine, similarly worked, but fermented completely dry, just didn't find the same harmonious balance between the slightly sweet seafood and the wine.

What's the best way of serving crayfish? I guess the answer depends how often one eats it. For me it is usually a once- a-year treat so it has to be as natural as can be. I can’t see the point in forking out a lot of money for this seafood delicacy only to hide the delicate flavour behind garlic, cheese or other strong flavoured taste. Our crayfish was purchased from a well-established downtown Auckland seafood market. It had been cooked that morning but had been sitting in a chilled display cabinet then placed in our chilly bin for the trip home and into the fridge until we were ready. So it had to have that coldness taken away from it. Here's how to do it.

Cut the crayfish exactly in half lengthways and place each half, cut side up, into a suitable-sized baking dish, curling the cray's tail pieces to make it fit. Now pour boiling water into the dish so it comes about half way up the side of the crayfish shell. Place the dish into a pre-heated oven and cook for about 15 minutes at 150 degrees C. Remove the dish, prick the cray meat with a fork and smear butter on the meat. Now put under the grill until the butter starts to sizzle. Serve in the shell.

It's a good idea to have a nutcracker handy when it comes to attacking the leg bits. A water filled finger bowl is also good as your hands get messy pulling the cray to bits and sucking the sweet meat out of every nook and cranny.

Chardonnay is easily the best match to crayfish, whether it comes with bubbles or not. Try it next time you eat this seafood delicacy.

Muddy Water is a vineyard in the Waipara region of Canterbury that produced their first wines in 1997. They grow Riesling, Pinotage, Pinot Noir and Syrah as well as Chardonnay.

For more on Muddy Water wines, go to their website

© Sue Courtney
8 February 2004

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