Nonconformist Oyster & Wine Pairings


Like many foodies, I adore oysters on the half shell. 

One of my first jobs working in a professional kitchen as a kid, after I was promoted from the pot sink, was shucking oysters and serving them iced on the half shell. I got very adept at opening them very quickly – but of course, who doesn’t prefer to have someone open their oysters for them? Flash forward to a few years ago, on a beautiful late summer day filming a segment for my PBS series in Bouzigues, France: We hauled up what must have been a few hundred oysters straight out of the bay and headed back to the docks where we washed a good number of them down with ice-cold bottles of good local Picpuol, a white varietal known as “lip stinger” due to its high acidity. I lost count of how many oysters I’d eaten that afternoon, but it was my personal record for sure. Moments like these are a solid reminder of how important it is to pair your raw oysters with the right wine – and not necessarily Muscadet.
When it comes to what to drink with raw oysters, ‘unsauced’, on the half shell, sometimes with a splash of lemon juice (the way I eat them), there are loads of options out there. The first thing to remember: Your East Coast varieties tend to be salty and lean with lots of mineral flavors, while West Coast styles are fat, milky with traces of melon. 
The second thing to remember: Avoid tannin and oak. You will want to avoid the oaky Chardonnay this time around.  The third thing to remember: When possible, drink local. I’ve washed down platters of oysters seaside in Galicia, Spain with many a bottle of their local crisp dry Albariño and in the seaside towns of Portugal with Vinho Verde and the excellent under-appreciated sparkling wines of Bairrada in Portugal.
A stand-out region for oyster pairing, though landlocked, is Italy’s Alpine Alto-Adige/ Sud Tirol. Elevation, diurnal temperature swings, and the varied soil types combining volcanic and primitive rock mixes studded with mica, limestone, quartz and sandy marl create perfect oyster whites that are crisp and mineral driven with good integrated acid. Example grapes to look for from this region include Kerner , Moscato Giallo and Pinot Grigio. From further south in Italy, I’d pair Vermentino any day as well as Fiano, Greco di Tufo from Sicily Regaleali and most anything well made with Caricante grapes from Etna.

Beyond Italy, here are some French whites that will never let you down: 
By Region
By Grape
But what would a somm say? Some thoughts from Master Sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier: 
For salty, lemony, briny East Coast style oysters
For fatty milky, West Coast style oysters
Master Somm Laura Maniec (of NYC’s Corkbuzz wine bars) confessed to me that she is a traditionalist. She recommends: 
For grilled oysters with a little lemon and pepper
  • Grüner Veltliner- Try Karl Lagler Federspiel. (The 2011 received 89 points from Snooth, and you can get a glass of the 2013 at Corkbuzz right now.)
For Kumamoto Oysters
- Junmai  Daiginjo, a type of sake.
For classic oysters on the half shell with cocktail sauce
Mike Colameco is a professionally trained chef, author, radio and TV host. He is a graduate from the Culinary Institute of America. After graduating from CIA he worked at the Four Season’s Restaurant, Windows On The World, The Maurice, Tavern On The Green and at the age of 31 he was the Executive Chef of The Ritz Carlton, New York City, prior to opening his own seasonal restaurant, The Globe in Cape May, New Jersey. Along with being the host/producer of Mike Colameco’s Real Food, on PBS and CREATE TV he was the host/producer of Food Talk on WOR 710AM for six years and currently the host/producer of Mike Colameco's Food Talk on The Heritage Radio Network. Mike wrote the guide book, Mike Colameco’s Food Lover’s Guide to New York Citypublished by John Wiley & Sons in 2009 and has written for Saveur, Edible Manhattan, Edible New Jersey and Guitar Aficionado on numerous occasions.
All parenthetical wine recommendations are provided by the Snooth Editorial team.

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