Ask people around the world what foods are most conducive to romance, and you'll get radically different answers: One man's fugu is another's poison. But for some reason, oysters, slithery gray bivalves still living as they meet their grisly fate, seem thought of as accessories to sex wherever they're eaten.
So the Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition held in San Francisco and Seattle last week couldn't be more timely. From 92 wines submitted by 70 wineries from British Columbia to California, just 10 survived round after round of tastings. Twenty semifinalists were sampled by 30-odd experts from the press and hospitality trade.
"It's an interesting challenge," says Lane Hoss, wine buyer for Anthony's seafood restaurants, "because you're tasting the wines for one purpose only. One of the rules was 'Don't sniff the bouquet before you taste,' because that could prejudice your evaluation." To complement the subtle fragrance of a fresh oyster, a wine must be dry, crisp, acidic—too much residual sugar and the combination can make one gag; too much oak flavor covers the oyster taste completely.
One wild-card entry was made from the auxerrois grape, which is an important silent partner in many of the dry wines of Alsace. "I was really impressed with that one," says Greg Hinton of Elliott's Oyster House, "because it's from British Columbia, which is a pretty new wine region that we don't see that much of down here."
Wine chauvinists may be annoyed that only two Washington state wines appear among the tasters' top 10, tying with Oregon and British Columbia, while California took four slots. Idaho's wineries got skunked. But the numerical standings may reflect the relative number of producers in each state more than success in making wine to go with oysters. Do they even eat oysters in Idaho?
With one exception, all the winners were vintage 2000. You can find them at many restaurants featuring a raw seafood bar, at Larry's Markets, and in some specialty wineshops. And the winners of the 2002 Oyster Wine taste-off (in alphabetical order, to be fair, and with approximate retail prices) are:
*Buena Vista sauvignon blanc (Calif.) $7.50
*Dry Creek Vineyard dry chenin blanc *(Calif.) $9
*EOS Estate Winery sauvignon blanc *(Calif.) $14
*Geyser Peak Winery '01 sauvignon blanc *(Calif.) $10
*Gray Monk Estate Winery auxerrois (B.C.) *$10
*Gray Monk Estate Winery pinot gris (B.C.) *$9
*Hedges Cellars fum魣hardonnay (Wash.) *$10
*King Estate pinot gris (Ore.) $9
*Maryhill sauvignon blanc (Wash.) $10 *(direct from winery only)
*Oak Knoll pinot gris (Ore.) $10