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WINE AND FOOD WEDNESDAY
10/13/2010
Wine And Food Wednesday
Oysters: We Like Oysters

By Stephen Eliot

We like oysters. We like them fried, roasted and grilled in their shells, but we like them most when fresh, raw and resting on ice...the oysters, that is, not us. It has been said that one does not eat oysters simply for sustenance any more than one drinks wine solely to slake thirst. Both are partaken for pleasure, and, when the right oysters are matched to the right wine, that pleasure seems exponentially increased. Now, we have also heard more than once that pairing oysters with wine is difficult and that not many wines work with oysters, but we disagree on both counts. We have slurped our fair share of these briny beauties at a number of culinary events over the past couple of weeks, and, as practice again proves that it makes perfect, a few simple guidelines should pave the way to success.

The first and overriding rule to be observed is that the wine should be fairly light and refreshing with a good streak of acidity keeping it bright and buoyant. Even if quite flavorful and involving, the best oysters are after all not especially heavy in taste or texture. The old classics from France such as a young Muscadet de Sevre et Maine, a stony Chablis and our favorite quaff with oysters, any Champagne – especially Blanc de Blancs – still stand with the best.

But we recently found a new match, and one that should not surprise us but perhaps was hiding away in the back of our memory banks. New Zealand’s vibrant Sauvignon Blancs, as we learned gulping new Marlborough bottlings from Kim Crawford and Nobilo with outstanding Bluff Oysters from the country’s Foveaux Strait are absolutely marvelous matches to fresh oysters as well. In particular, we have to rise in praise of the New Zealand Oysters—not too big but exceptionally clean and crisp with just a touch of a meaty, briny edge, these beauties do not often show up on the West Coast, but they are not to be missed whenever you might run into them. That they went well with the New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs was the point of the exercise in the first place, but, for us, such exercises are experiments. Some work; some don’t. Most do not rise high enough to get a mention in our blog. This one does as do the wines below.

Even so, we can hear dissent in the distance from those defenders of the politically correct who suggest that everyone should drink whatever they like. No matter. We have our favorites and will continue to post them here. We hope you enjoy them and find them of some value, and we would love to hear of your own. And, when it comes to complementing oysters, the uninformed pouring of any randomly picked wine is just not in the cards. Syrah and Kumamotos, anyone?

87 NOBILO Regional Collection Marlborough 2010 $14.00
Geared to fresh grass and herbs in the nose and finding a sweet spot of pineapple fruit on the palate, this briskly balanced middleweight leads with bare hint of sweetness before its ample acids cut in. It may not be the most complex Sauvignon to be found, but its combination of freshness, fruit and a certain citrusy tang made it a most comfortable foil to fresh oysters.

88 KIM CRAWFORD Marlborough 2010 $18.00
Just a little more rounded and slightly juicier in character than the Nobilo bottling, this flavorful Sauvignon leans to figs and green melons with plentiful fruit that played a fine counterpoint to the slightly meatier aspects of the night’s oysters. Again, the wine finishes with the requisite burst of bracing acidity that cleanses the palate and inexorably leads to another oyster or two.

89 NOBILO Icon Marlborough 2010 $22.00
There is a real boost in overall richness and weight here, yet if a bigger and bolder look at New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Nobilo’s Icon is charged with lots of vibrant, keenly fit acidity that makes it a winner with oysters and white-fleshed fishes alike. Its abundant gooseberry-like fruit and accents of fresh juniper will hold it in good stead when richer shellfish dishes are served, but its keen sense of balance wards off the least sense of heaviness.

91 KIM CRAWFORD Spitfire Marlborough 2010 $26.00
The star of the night and quite simply one of the better New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs that we can recall, this “small-parcel” bottling is rife with bright fruit and is styled in a somewhat tighter and crisper vein. Its underlying suggestions of minerals and stones play beautifully against fresh New Zealand oysters, yet it has the fruity stamina and unmistakable depth of a wine that will work famously with dishes ranging from grilled salmon to sea bass to milder poultry. It is in short supply, but it is a wine well worth seeking out.

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