Do you have a favorite wine type to drink with oysters? Some classicists insist on Muscadet. I prefer New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, although the more Spanish Albariños I try the more I like them too. This past week I had several opportunities to taste different wines with my favorite bivalves. Looks like the options these days are wider than I thought.
Here’s my theory: Pick a wine based on what condiments you put on a raw oyster. If you like ’em plain, you probably want something light and mild in flavor, such as Muscadet. If you like a squirt of lemon or lime, as I do, or the traditional vinegar-based mignonette, you probably want a tart, lively wine like Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, which has a citrusy quality that’s just like adding a few drops of lemon or lime when you sip it after the oyster. If you like more complex flavors, such as the oft-used ketchup-and-horseradish “cocktail” sauce, you’ll probably want something fruity and a bit sweet, to balance the sweetness in the sauce.
The type of oyster also plays a role, in that flat Atlantic oysters are saltier and stronger than plump Pacific species, which are often described as sweet (though they have no sugar in them). The less salty the oyster, the stronger the wine’s flavor should be to strike a balance.
My first encounter last week involved a plate of Hood Canal oysters from Washington’s Puget Sound and a bottle of Washington Riesling, Eroica 2007 from Chateau Ste. Michelle and Dr. Loosen. The wine was a little sweeter than I usually like with oysters but it had enough natural acidity to strike a good balance with the sweet and delicate oysters. Not my first choice, but I was surprised at how well it worked.
Just the other day I had more Hood Canals along with some Marin Miyagis. Both are Pacific oysters, but the Miyagis were slightly saltier. An Aussie guest brought along a dry Riesling, a Sauvignon Blanc and an unoaked Chardonnay to sip with them. I would have put my money on the Sauvignon Blanc, but we agreed that the winner with both oysters was Wishing Tree Chardonnay Western Australia Unoaked 2007. The freshness and vitality of the wine made a perfect foil.
The mother of all oyster-and-wine tasting exercises, the Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition, came to town the same week. I always look forward to an unending supply of Taylor Shellfish Farms Totten Inlet (Washington) Kumamoto oysters. And, of course, trying them with the 20 wines organizer Jon Rowley and his crew in Seattle pre-selected from among nearly 200 entries submitted by California, Oregon and Washington vintners.
I usually gravitate toward Sauvignon Blancs with the Kumos, a small, fat, sweet oyster. These this year were especially plump and, I thought, lacking a bit in salinity, so they tasted kind of bland. That may be why my top 10 choices this time included a Müller-Thurgau, a Müller-Thurgau blend and two Pinot Gris along with six Sauvignon Blancs.
Rowley told us to pick the wines that made the best matches with the oysters, not necessarily our favorites by themselves. That may explain why my top wine with this oyster was Rutherford Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2007. My colleague Mary Ann Worobiec rated it 85 points and described it as ripe and fleshy. I maybe liked it a point better, but I really enjoyed the creamy texture with the fat oyster.
My second favorite was Anne Amie Cuvee Amrita 2007, a blend of Müller-Thurgau (a Riesling cross) plus, in descending order, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay, Viognier and Mélon from Oregon. The dry, zippy balance and fresh flavors felt particularly good with the bivalve.
The other judges also included the Rutherford Ranch and the Amrita among their favorites. The group also picked five Sauvignon Blancs and four Pinot Gris. (The results list the 10 choices in alphabetical order, not in order of preference.) Usually, Sauvignon Blanc dominates even more, so I’m guessing that the plump oysters this year shifted the preferences away from tart grassiness toward wines with more fruit.
Pacific Rim Winemakers — April 29, 2009 12:50pm ET
Andrew J Grotto — Washington, DC — April 29, 2009 2:03pm ET
John Shuey — Carrollton, TX — April 29, 2009 2:17pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — April 29, 2009 2:24pm ET
David Greenstein — Phila,Pq — April 29, 2009 8:30pm ET
David Harper — Annapolis MD — April 30, 2009 7:32am ET
Ronnie Sanders — Philly — April 30, 2009 7:53am ET
Brian Byers — Winnipeg, MB — April 30, 2009 9:39am ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — April 30, 2009 10:34am ET
Jlpef@uol Com Br — Sao Paulo BR — April 30, 2009 1:20pm ET
Gavin Speight — Napa, California — April 30, 2009 6:32pm ET
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