Oysters are shrouded in myths, but since we are in February, and for argument's sake, I am going to chalk it up to romantic notions. Not coincidentally, many of the oyster myths involve love, or more specifically, love making.
Whether it is myth or fact, serving oysters with the appropriate wine is a classic and practical way to start romancing that special person in your life on Valentine’s Day. Oyster and oyster wine advocate Jon Rowley calls finding the ideal wine pairing a mating ritual. He has turned that mating ritual into an annual competition, the Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition, now in its 18th year.
Two of the largest myths are that oysters are best enjoyed in months spelled with the letter R, and that oysters are aphrodisiacs.
Regarding the first myth that oysters are best enjoyed in the months of September through April, when the oysters are firm, the rationale goes that most oysters are spawning during the balance of the year. Focused on sex during May through August, the oysters are rendered thin and creamy, not the ideal texture to enjoy bivalves. However, oysters such as Kumamotos, raised in the Pacific Northwest, are plump and firm into May and June most years.
As for oysters as aphrodisiacs, there are no empirical medical studies supporting that assertion. Instead, the oysters’ reputation as foreplay food is likely a placebo effect spurred by the suggestive shape of some oysters.
On Valentine’s Day, run with the myths. Enjoy some oysters and wash them down with domestic wines. The Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition filters through more than 100 wines to find the 10 best oyster wines of the year.
Last year, a total of 37 judges in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, including yours truly, narrowed 119 wine entries to 10 equal winners.
Wines were paired with Kumamotos during both the preliminary judging in late March-early April as well as the final judging in late April. I consumed more than 25 dozen oysters combined in the preliminaries and finals, first slurping and chewing on the oyster before washing it down with each wine, sometimes repeating the ritual two or three times with each wine.
Rowley recommends not swirling the wine or smelling it, both common practices in evaluating wine, before sipping it as any of the qualities of the wines judges smell could alter the experience on the palate. For optimum pairing, Rowley recommends serving the wine at the same temperature as the oyster. In short, cold.
Red wines and rosés rarely pair with oysters as they are often either too tannic, too oaky or too fruity and thus mask any of the oysters' gentle brininess. Fruity, oaky and even complex white wines are not ideal to pair with oysters, either.
Crisp, clean, minerally, simple white wines are best with bivalves. The best part is that there are many readily available wines in the local market that retail for under $15 with those qualities, including the winners of the Pacific Oyster Wine Competition. So you can be a romantic without spending a lot of money.
The winners, including three from Washington and two from Oregon, are listed below. The 2009 Sauvignon Blanc was the only winner from Woodinville. (Sparkling wines, especially dry sparkling wines, are excellent with oysters. For more on sparkling and still wines for Valentine’s Day, read next week’s column.)
10 Cadaretta SBS
09 Chateau Ste. Michelle Sauvignon Blanc
09 Hogue Cellars Pinot Grigio
10 Van Duzer Vineyards Estate Pinot Gris
09 King Estate Winery Signature Collection Pinot Gris
10 Kunde Family Estate Sauvignon Blanc
09 Brassfield Estate Winery Sauvignon Blanc
10 Pine Ridge Vineyards Chenin Blanc + Viognier
09 Robledo Family Winery Sauvignon Blanc
10 Three Pears Pinot Grigio