One of the most decadent pairings for a food and wine lover are oysters and wine. So simple yet incredibly rich and exquisite in experience. A white wine classically accompanies oysters. However, there are so many oyster options because, like wines, they differ due to their terroir and type. Some oysters can be lean, fatty, creamy, buttery, fruity, briny or even vegetal.
When we factor in the method of preparation, be it freshly shucked oysters to Oysters Rockefeller, the possibilities are endless. That being said, let’s look at the basics of oysters as well as some classic (and not so classic pairings).
There are five species of oysters harvested in the United States with varying differences stemming from the water, the location and handling.
• Pacific Oysters are are small and sweet and the world’s most cultivated oyster.
• Very similar to Pacific are the Kumamotos, which are also small, meaty, sweet and have a nutty quality with a deeper shaped bowl-like shell. These are also found along the Pacific coast.
• Most popular in the US are the Atlantic Oysters (a.k.a. Bluepoints) which have a lean minerality, briny and steely flavor as well as a longer, flatter-shaped shell.
• European Flats (a.k.a. Belons) are mostly grown in Brittany, France but can also be found in the states of Washington and Maine. These oysters have a umami seaweed minerality, and a meaty, smooth flat shell.
• Olympias are tiny versions of a Kumamoto, barely the size of a quarter, yet they have a mild and meaty texture and flavor.
When selecting a wine to accompany oysters, consider the basics. Oysters have a sublime creaminess in texture and the acidity of the wine cuts through that richness. Therefore the acidity in the wine acts much like a squeeze of lemon would. A General rule: You don’t want to choose a wine that will overpower the elegant flavor notes of the oysters. The cooler climate wines will tend to be less fruity with a naturally high, zingy acid structure.
• Champagne – I have to begin with my favorite pairing for oysters. The bubbles, combined with the high acidity to cleanse the palate of the oysters richness, are just divine. In general the rule of thumb is, the drier the better because it compliments the minerality of the oyster and its acidity stands up to the salt, specifically a Blanc de Blanc Champagne. Other alternatives would be a Trentodoc, Cava or California Traditional method Sparkling.
• Muscadet should be on your MUST pair list with oysters. This wine is made from Melon de Bourgogne grape influenced by its location near the Atlantic coast of the Nantes in the Loire, France. It’s a lighter-bodied style of wine with crisp, clean notes of citrus, pear and apple and bright acidity. Skip the lemon wedge and go straight to this pairing. Plus these wines are very affordable in the $20 price range.
• Chablis is a no-brainer when it comes to pairing with seafood. Chablis is a Chardonnay hailing from France’s northern Burgundy region. The rich marine fossils, including oyster shells and limestone soils known as Kimmeridigian, provide the chalky, briny minerality to the wine. In addition, its cool climate profile of racy acidity and bright apple, citrus, and minerality flavors make it sing.
• Picpoul de Pinet is another cost-effective choice from the Languedoc region of France which offers “lip stinging” acidity and citrusy, white blossom and a salinity edge to cleanse the palate and compliment the salinity of the oysters.
• Sancerre is another gem from the Loire, France made from Sauvignon Blanc. The style is bright, crisp citrus flavors with a flint-tinged edge. The high acidity of this Sauvignon Blanc makes it a lovely seafood accompaniment.
Here are Some Other Wine Options to Pair
• Albariño is a Northern Atlantic favorite in Rias Baixas. The firm bright acidity and stone fruit flavors are renowned as a seafood pairing. This Spanish wine, full of citrus zest and a notable zip, is delectable alongside oysters. The hints of white nectarine, peach, and even sometimes grapefruit emphasize the feeling of summer.
• Vinho Verde is a light and lively white from Northern Portugal. Its acidity brings out the sweetness in the oyster. The fun fruity white usually has a touch of spritz.
• Txakolina is another cool, crisp white from the Atlantic Basque region of Spain. Its lemon fresh goodness, freshly baked bread, salty minerality, and savory chamomile are a delight with seafood.
• Fino Sherry is not your grandmothers Sherry! Produced in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, it has a sea breeze tang, a slight nutty, light bone-dry style along with its umami quality from being aged under flor (a layer of yeast that protects the wine from oxidation).
• Rosé from the classic Cote de Provence, France would be a nice option as well. Its dry and highly acidic profile will balance with the oyster’s saltiness, but won’t overpower it as it is light in all elements of style, body and intensity.
Here are a Few Wine and Oyster Pairings
• Muscadet, Albarino and Sancerre would shine with the Atlantic oysters due to their bright, lean and mineral flavors.
• Pacific oysters prefer the bubbly cleansing of a Blanc de Blanc or a Fino Sherry’s racy acidity.
• Olympias and Kumamotos on the other had call for anything light, white and like the tart lemon of Picpoul de Pinet, Muscadet or Vinho Verde.
All this being said, my motto is drink what you love! So try a new pairing and see how it works. Don’t be afraid to open your wine mind by experimenting with some new combinations.