If the first two rules of pairing wine with food are, one, to drink what you want, and two, to drink the cuisine, then nothing proves the third rule – it’s the accents, not the main ingredients – better than oysters. This pearl of the sea that’s slurped with delight can be eaten raw, fried, baked, or in stew, but one thing’s for sure: It’s an inspiration for chefs and wine-lovers everywhere.
When it comes to the raw material, North America’s best come from Chincoteague Island (Virginia), Chesapeake Bay (Maryland), Prince Edward Island (Canada) and Great South Bay (Long Island), though our friends from Louisiana to Maine might argue.
The best recipe competition is a bit harder, and depends on whether raw, steamed, grilled, or “souped” is the preferred method. The oyster’s versatility yields numerous flavors and textures, plus it offers numerous possibilities for wine matching.
Slurp raw oysters from the half shell with Muscadet or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, whose lime accents pair well with the briny flavors of oysters fresh from the sea. Sometimes the raw material is topped with a chef’s own creation, such as the Oysters Ceviche at Sea Catch in Washington, D.C. They’re served with a crown of pico di gallo, a recipe that sings for a dry rosé.
Grilled oysters have grown in popularity and have migrated from their birthplace in the Louisiana and Alabama seaside to the backyard barbecues of the north. The smoky flavors and slight nuttiness acquired through the preparation quickly align with a soft, earthy Pinot Noir.
Far from raw, Oysters Rockefeller relies on a combination of greens with cayenne and bacon to spice up the recipe. Once baked, this dish will fill the room with its succulent aromas and turn even the heads of those who they never eat this little fruit of the sea. The greens, spice, and baked flavors call for a substantial wine like a French Chablis or Napa Valley lightly oaked Chardonnay.
Oyster stew, like seafood gumbo, is a mixing bowl of flavors and spices, with bacon, garlic, tomatoes, and a gaggle of greens all competing for attention. For this explosion of flavors, nothing will do quite like a Pinot Noir from Oregon, Carneros, or Russian River Valley.
Oyster chowder is a soup of a different color. The buttery textures of cream and subtle accents of leeks and thyme point toward Pinot Blanc as the perfect beverage. Otherwise, a steely unoaked Chardonnay works best in this setting.
With this range of flavors, it’s even possible to choose your wine first, then search for the recipe that fits it.