Pairing Oysters with Wine

April 05 2011 - 11:36 AM

A while back, Chicago Foodies was invited to a wine and oyster pairing event at Shaw’s Crab House and Oyster Bar, a fitting place to become more educated about different oyster styles.  The panel was led by Rowan Jacobsen, an engaging and well-rounded author who had written books such asA Geography of Oysters and American Terroir, a book describing a sense of place regarding a variety of items other than the typical things we associate with location, such as wine and coffee.  Three winemakers were represented, courtesy of importer W.J. Deutsch:  André Lurton, a large producer in Bordeaux;  The Crossings, from New Zealand; and Barone Fini, a family-owned Trentino and Alto Adige producer of Pinot Grigio with roots dating from the late fifteenth century, represented by the charming Giovanni Bonmartini-Fini.


We were exposed to different styles of oysters, some very briny and citrusy, while others were sweet, grassy, or with notes of gunflint and copper.   Textures ranged from tough to very soft and smooth.  Several of the oysters were from Washington state, one was from British Columbia, and another couple were from the East Coast.   Branding is being used to give consumers points of reference for different oyster types, including one called the Naked Cowboy, though I hope the person who coined that name doesn’t wind up being sued.  As the oysters were being served, we were offered wine pairings.

Our first wine was a  Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot  rosé blend from Chateau Bonnet, which had a common strawberry/grassy flavor retailing for $13.99.   We were given two dry Pinot Grigios from Barone Fini, one from Valdadige (best known for Santa Margarita)  and the other from the more common Alto Adige region.  Terroir very subtlety played into the differences, with the Alto Adige wine being someone sharper, whereas the Valdadige had a roundness, with pear, apple, and grapefruit notes.  André Lurton’s Château Bonnet also toboggan gonflable offered two white Bordeauxs, one a 50 percent Sauvignon Blanc/ 40 percent Sémillon/ 10 percent Muscaedelle combination retailing for $13.99; and, two, an oak-aged concentrated $56.99  85 percent Sauvignon Blanc wine that had a nice concentration, fruitiness, and age worthiness, with expected grass and grapefruit flavors.  It’s probably about $15-20 more than what I would be willing to spend, regrettably, and for the record I do dabble in that price range for white wines frequently.

Charismatic Matthew Mitchell of New Zealand’s Crossings displayed a Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, though unfortunately the Pinot was a bit big for the style of the grape, and the Sauvignon Blanc could maybe use a bit more acidity.  Still, both were good matches, and the Pinot Noir successfully was paired with an Olympia Oyster from Totten Inlet, Washington.

Overall, I enjoyed the overall event, which was well organized and exposed me to different types of grape pairings than what would have first come to my mind, such as Albariño from Rias Baixas in Spain, Champagne (perhaps too obvious), and my standby, Riesling.     Moreover, it was an honor hearing Rowan Jacobsen extolling his passion of the oyster industry, as well as hear some of the winemakers discuss their offerings.  As a follow up a couple weeks later I felt compelled to order an oyster tray at C-House restaurant.

To fast forward, I took copious notes and went home and started writing this article as a play-by-play oyster vs. wine pairing, comparing each oyster to each wine pairing, but then realized that there may not be nearly as many people fluent in oysters as they are wine, myself being one of them.  This is especially true in Chicago where oysters have to be transported from the coasts, and that the details of the individual may cloud the overall event.  After the event I also contemplated exactly how precise the pairings have to be with certain types of oysters; in other words, would a particular type of wine work well with all types of oysters as opposed to matching a wine with oyster.  Any oyster fans out there?

–Brian Ziegler