It's officially spot prawn season on the coast. The seasonal rush for this local delicacy began May 12 and extends until mid- to late June, depending on the abundance of this year's crop. Known around the world for its sweet, delicate flavour and firm texture, the mostly finger-length shrimp is easily recognized for its reddish brown colour, which turns bright pink when cooked, and telltale white spots on the tail and horizontal white bars on the carapace. Wild B.C. spot prawns are a quirky delicacy for sure. They're hermaphrodites that spend the first two years of their lives as males before they change to females for about the same period. To me, that transformation is as good a reason as any to explain how this colourful shrimp can be both delicate in flavour and looks yet firm in texture.The prawns are caught in baited traps anywhere from 40 to 100 metres below sea level along our rocky coast. Close to 90 per cent of the catch is frozen at sea and then shipped to Japan and the rest of Asia. The good news for locals is a portion of the catch is set aside fresh to be consumed in area restaurants and kitchens "in season," joining the likes of halibut, salmon, strawberries, blueberries et al that come and go from our diets marking the change in seasons.
So, what's the wine connection? If we've learned anything from the rest of the world about wine it's that the single most useful wine-pairing rule is that what grows together, goes together. So, forget that Kiwi sauvignon blanc or French Chablis and think about some of the latest 2016 BC whites and rosés to sip with your catch.
Two things to keep in mind: The 2016 B.C. whites are some of the best we've seen in years mainly because they come with a brightness of acidity that gives them both lift and balance. And when you pair your favourite whites and rosés with local spot prawns, keep in mind that the spicier the dish the sweeter the wine can be or the more residual sugar it can have.
All that said, the classic dish for me is pure simplicity. In a small saucepan sauté the prawns for about 30 seconds with some olive oil, sliced garlic, butter, zest and juice of lemons and garnish with some chopped parsley. Now what to buy from your wine store?
A new discovery for me and one that will make you forget about France or New Zealand is Little Engine Silver Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($30). Little Engine is based in Penticton, but the grapes for this electric sauvignon blanc come from a single vineyard in the Similkameen. Expect a crisp and bright style with tropical and zesty lemon and lime pith finishing with a crunchy snap. A poster child for spot prawns.
Winemaker Nikki Callaway likes to say she talks to her chenin blanc vines hoping to see what they want to be in the future. Her Quails' Gate Chenin Blanc 2016 ($17) seems to be where they want to be. We could say its super fresh and clean but let's add electric and enervating. Unlike so many heavy, weighty versions of chenin blanc, the 2016 is on the brighter sider with green melon, citrus, pear flavours. Complex and delicious, it is quintessential Okanagan and great with spot prawns. Great value, too.
There's an inherent sweetness in spot prawns that leads me to believe they would work well with LaStella Moscato D'Osoyoos 2015 ($20). This is an Okanagan take on Piemonte's famous Moscato d'Asti, and a believable one at that. Perfumed orange blossoms, apricot, ripe pear, rose petals and ginger, all with a delicate effervescence that lifts the mid-sweet, slender-boned palate while a bright acidity supports its delicate featherweight palate. A perfect like-on-like match with spot prawns.
Hester Creek Old Vines Block 16 Trebbiano 2016 ($23) is as rare as the short spot prawn season, thanks to its 49-year-old vines planted on the Golden Mile Bench. Muskmelon, grapefruit and ripe Asian pear flavours suggest a bit of spice could be in order with your spot prawns. It doesn't get more local.
Pinot blanc doesn't get a lot of love in British Columbia because it often lacks definition (electricity), ending up flat and buttery on the palate. In the case of St. Hubertus Pinot Blanc 2015 ($18.30) the Swiss precision of the Gebert family brings this pinot blanc to life with freshness, offering a mix of green apples and lemons with a squeeze of peach juice. Toss in some local terroir sagebrush and you have a winner for the price. Another wine perfectly structured for spot prawns.
Our final pick today is closest to the ocean, remembering that "grows together goes together" rule. The Unsworth Vineyards Rosé 2015 ($20) is dry, reflecting Vancouver Island's Cowichan Valley warmth in a marine climate. Expect bright strawberry, youthful raspberry and wild pink florals laced with mandarin peel. This pink-on-pink match could be a party favourite just from the way it looks.
Enjoy the 2017 wild B.C. spot prawn season because, like most great treats that come once a year, it will be over before you know it.
Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more of his thoughts on wine log onto www.gismondionwine.com