After reading Eve’s article on Hungry Cat’s Oyster Bar, I was inspired to say a few words on what wines pair best with “The Pearl of the Sea.” One does not have to be a sommelier, or James Bond, to know the classic pairing to be with Champagne. And it seems with agent 007, the only question was the year of the Champagne. There are a couple of things to keep in mind if you decide to make your wine selection Champagne.
The first is to chill to perfection. It is imperative that both the Champagne and oysters are chilled properly. The crisp fizziness of the wine works well to bring out the flavor of oysters. Champagnes nicely cut through the briny richness of oysters while enhancing their more subtle flavors. The next point I would make is that the Champagne must be one with a high blend of Chardonnay. For my palate, I would go with a Taittinger Brut La Francaise. The wine has a nice balance of stone fruit and crisp hints of bread crusts that is guaranteed to explode your taste buds for only $50 a bottle. The alcohol content is 12.3%.
Too Bond for you? You need a bit of Pinot Noir to balance your palate? Just be careful not you over power. I would recommend a La Demoiselle Tete de Cuvee. The bouquet is dominated by Pinot Noir. There are flavors of buttered toast, apples, with the slight flavor of chanterelle mushroom. This vinous and potent Champagne is sure to please even the most discerning of palates. With an alcohol content of 12%, it is an excellent buy at $40 a bottle.
Dry white wines such as Chardonnay, with its lemony tartness, and lightness, will best complement the meal. If you decide to forgo the classic pairing with Champagne with your oysters, I would recommend a Pouilly Fuisse. Louis Jadot is a popular favorite. It is a wine of finesse and distinction. The wine’s fresh and harmonious flavors of grapefruit and lemon, along with subtle hints of hazelnut, are sure to entice the palate. A sure bet at only $25 a bottle. Caution alert! Stay away from most Chardonnay from California and Australia. The growing regions in these countries are much warmer than France, and the wines being produced are not as astringent or delicate, and not at all appropriate when served with oysters.
With this in mind, Sauvignon Blanc, with its tarter edge and lighter qualities, is a more than a viable selection. Regardless of the wine growing region, Sauvignon Blanc, forgive the pun, is the wine for all seasons. At least when paired with oysters. With its stark minerality, crisp fruit, and the slightest hint of anise, a newer wine like a Pascal Jolivet Sancerre 2009, is the ideal complement. It is a steal at only $25 a bottle.
Contrary to popular opinion, not all oysters taste alike. This is where geography comes into play. A lot has to do with the waters from which the oyster is harvested. The result is some oysters are brinier, while others have a creamy texture, some are leaner, and others fatter. In the States, when selecting a wine to pair with oysters, you need to be aware location, location, location. Most of our oysters come from East Coast, Gulf Coast, and our Northwest Coast.
Be bold and experiment with your pairings. With oysters from the East Coast, which are leaner, moderately briny, and salty, try a German Riesling. Though not as dry as a Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling’s can retain a zesty, mineral flavor. Typically the alcohol content on these wines is 9-11% and light on the palate. Due to their natural lemon-lime acidity, pairing with a Riesling will result in a sweetening of the oyster. At only $40 a bottle, a Prinz Salm Grunnshiefer Riesling Trocken 2010 is quite a gem. This redolent wine is lightly perfumed and floral, yet intense with citrus flavors and feeling of wet stones on the palate. The alcohol content is 12%.
The waters off the Northwest coasts of Canada and the U.S. are an oyster lover’s paradise. The region produces nothing but the broadest, roundest, fruitiest, fleshiest, and creamy textured oysters. For these types of oysters, I’d go with a Vouvray Les Argiles 2011, a great French wine at $30 a bottle. Fritsch Gruner Veltliner Schlossberg 2011 from Austria is a good buy at only $25 a bottle. An Italian Pinot Grigio is a nice pairing. Borgo Reale Toscana IGT 2007 is an excellent selection and only $25 a bottle.
When ordering smaller oysters like Kumamotos, stay with wines that are light and lemony. An Italian Gavi from Piedmont, a 2010 Coppo La Rocca immediately comes to mind. This bold wine works nicely with Kumamoto oysters and is only $20 a bottle. Grechetto from Umbria is a particular favorite. It is a surprisingly versatile white wine. A 2011 Grecante Grechetto from Arnaldi-Capri is priced at only $20 a bottle. Let’s not forget Vinho Verde from Portugal. This underappreciated wine is not just for summer. A 2012 Casa de Senra Loureiro is only $15 a bottle and is an ideal pairing.
With regard to oysters from the warmer Gulf Coast, they have a muddy or swampy quality. These oysters tend to be lean and duller in character and show best when cooked. Depending on the seasonings and sauces, I often pair oysters from the Gulf with a nice Viognier that is slightly oaked. The wine’s extraordinary combination of perfume, body, and intensity, will balance out the muddy and swampy tastes on the palate. My preference would be 2010 Andre Perret Condrieu Cotu du Chery. It is a bit pricey at $70 a bottle, but well worth the investment. If price is an issue, try a Viognier from Languedoc. My recommendation would be a 2010 Laurent Miquel Cuvee Verite, and at $25 a bottle, a very viable alternative to a Rhone wine. Do keep in mind that should you choose a Viognier, make sure the alcohol content is under 12.5%. I have found that wines that are top-heavy will over power and taste too alcoholic.
So is there any truth to the old adage of eating oysters in months ending in the letter “R”? This comes from the days before refrigeration when oysters could quickly spoil. With the exception of Gulfwater oysters, which spawn year-round, all other oysters spawn during the warm summer months. There is a school of that oysters spawned out of season are simply not as flavorful.
It is also quite trendy in spring to pair oysters with a Martini. Here the thought is to help the delicate flavor of oysters to shine. Vodka or gin?
The herbal floral notes of a Dirty Martini consisting of gin, is a suitable pairing to draw out the oyster’s complexity of flavors.
Should I decide to pair my oysters with a Martini, my choice would clearly be vodka. I prefer the clean and smooth taste of vodka to enhance the uniqueness of oysters.
The only question would then be what is James Bond’s preference in a Martini when enjoying oysters on the half-shell?
“But that my friends, is a different story …”