Every summer our good friends Jay and Lois host us for dinner and great wine. It’s always one of the best evenings of the year. It’s also where I had my first (reluctant) taste of oysters 10 years ago, when several different types of oysters on the half shell emerged from the kitchen as hors d’oeuvres.
I had gone almost a half a century without trying an oyster, and there I was, faced with an etiquette challenge. I forced myself to get one of them down. Little did I know that it would be the first oyster of many, many more. Since then I’ve tried to make up for lost oyster time by eating them frequently, and my wife and I have even launched an annual summer event: Oysterfest, where we serve hundreds of them. I’m happy to say we are now introducing oysters to other reluctant taste-testers like my former self.
The right wine and food pairings are important, and oysters are no exception. This year’s Oysterfest featured four different types of oysters and more than eight different wines:
Raspberry Point oysters. Grown on Prince Edward Island, these oysters are medium in size and have a contrasting saltiness / sweetness. While I normally prefer smaller oysters, these are still a nice size (three inches) for enjoying on the half shell.
Kumamoto oysters. My all-time favorite oysters, Kumamotos are grown in Washington State. Delicious with a very mild taste perfect for beginners, you can eat a dozen and still want more. These measure about two inches.
Precious oysters. These interesting Pacific oysters are raised similarly to Kumamotos —they are floated and move with the tide. Characterized by a blue- and white-striped shell, these oysters range from two and half to three inches in size. They have a slight salty taste with a cucumber flavor.
Olympia oysters. New to me this year, the Olympia oyster is native to the Pacific Northwest and is very small, about two inches, but big on taste with a sweet, slightly metallic taste and ocean saltiness.
Every year at Oysterfest we run out of white wine — which is not a good thing. So this year we bought more, and I did my homework, vying for a mix that included a couple New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, a Riesling and two types of Chenin Blanc from France. They joined some Oregon and California Pinot Noirs. Except for the Sokol Blossers, all were purchased locally.
2013 Oyster Bay
New Zealand (on sale for $12)
This wine has a citrus explosion that married perfectly with the oysters. Our guests loved it.
2013 Mussel Bay Sauvignon Blanc
New Zealand (on sale for $11)
This wine is similar to the Oyster Bay and displays the same citrus flavor – and we quickly ran out. At their reasonable prices, these wines are well worth trying.
2011 Chateau Gaudrelle Vouvray Clos le Vigneau
France (on sale for $16)
Also a nice wine with plenty of citrus and a touch of honey. This wine can be enjoyed with other foods or even by itself.
2013 Charles Smith Kung Fu Girls Riesling
Washington State ($15 or less)
I have written about Kung Fu Girls before for a reason: this is one of the best Rieslings available for the price. I just love this wine, which displays plenty of fruit and also has a nice sweetness (but not too much). I have bought this wine for as little as $11 on sale, so keep your eyes open.
2009 Domaine des Aubuisieres Vouvray les Girardieres Chenin Blanc
France ($18 or less)
Lots of citrus, which went well with the oysters. I think this would pair well with other foods as well, especially delicate fish.
We also enjoyed Pinot Noir with our oysters, including four different 2010 Sokol Blossers from Oregon and a 2007 and 2011 Williams Seylem from California. These wines are hard to find locally, but keep your eyes open. 2012 should be an excellent vintage for both of these wineries.
In fact, the 2012 vintage is looking promising for most California, Washington and Oregon wines. (Great winemakers can make very good or outstanding wines in off years, but almost everyone can make good wine in good years). Some 2012 California Cabernets are starting to show up on local wine lists; I was recently at 31 Club, which had a 2012 Uppercut Cabernet from California. I had never heard of the winery, but the wine was enjoyable and reasonable. It displayed lots of dark berry fruit, with some hints of coffee and chocolate, and all our guests loved it.
A new discovery for me is Bellangelo Finger Lakes Wines. This winery is located on the West side of Seneca Lake. I was invited to try their wines and had the opportunity to meet with co-owner and general manager Christopher Missick. Of all the wines I tasted, the one that really stood out (and is also available at several stores in Buffalo) was the 2012 Semi-Dry Riesling. I will be serving this wine to my guests in the future, which featured crisp flavor including plenty of fruit and just the right amount of sugar. This is an up-and-coming winery.
Warren T. Colville is Publisher and President of The Buffalo News.