Oysters Photo Courtesy Mike Urban Elliott's Oyster House.jpg
Photo Courtesy Mike Urban, Elliott's Oyster House
We generally stick to the booze talk here on In the Cups , but occasionally this boozehound needs

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"It's Not About the Wine, It's About the Oyster"

Oysters Photo Courtesy Mike Urban Elliott's Oyster House.jpg
Photo Courtesy Mike Urban, Elliott's Oyster House
We generally stick to the booze talk here on In the Cups, but occasionally this boozehound needs to eat too. I love the seasonality of booze--beer specifically--but love the seasonality of food even more. Pacific Coast oysters can be enjoyed year-round (unlike like their Gulf Coast counterparts), but as the darkness of winter closes in here in the Pacific Northwest, the briny bivalves taste particularly plump and fresh. And the drink of choice for washing down all these tasty treasures is clean, crisp uncomplicated white wine.

"It's not about the wine, it's about the oyster," insists seafood marketer Jon Rowley. "What you are looking for, regardless of the oyster, is a wine that exults the oyster by not getting in the way." Rowley organizes the annual Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition that is sponsored by Taylor Shellfish. Each spring, for the past 17 years, the competition identifies West Coast wines that can be recommended as good "oyster wines." Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio dominate the list. Rowley explains that you want something crisp and clean finishing when you are eating oysters, so it doesn't get in the way as you eat through a platter of various oysters.

At Elliott's Oyster House's Oyster New Year later this month, General Manager Tom Arthur says they'll be pouring a couple winning wines from the 2011 competition. Brassfield's 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier 2010 will be available. Some winners are no longer available, but Arthur says he has found that several wines have been multiple winners of the competition because the style of that particular wine remains quite similar from year to year. "For example," said Arthur, "The Chateau Ste Michelle Sauvignon Blanc was a winner in both the 2008 and 2009 vintages, and I would expect the 2010 to do well as it is very similar in style to the other two vintages."

Arthur continued, "Clean, crisp wines with relatively low aromatics and moderate to high acidity tend to pair well with oysters." At Oyster New Year, there will be ninety wines from sixty-three different wineries, including some Champagne, Semillon, Reisling and Chardonnay. Arthur encourages wineries to pour both white and red wines, at the event since the extensive buffet at the event ranges from raw oysters to fried clams, geoduck tartar and alder-smoked salmon. About 75% of the wines are white, but there will be several Pinot Noirs as well, an obvious choice for salmon pairing according to Arthur.

At the Taylor Shellfish shop in Capitol Hill's Melrose Market, they pour as many past winners as possible. Rowley thinks Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and certain unoaked Chardonnays are some of the best oyster wines. Across town at The Walrus and the Carpenter, French wines dominate the wine list. Despite serving as a past judge in the Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition, Chef Renee Erickson offers French wines that have traditionally been paired with oysters. Wines like Muscadet and Pouilly Fume from the Loire and Brittany regions of France, as well as several Champagnes.

Judges in past oyster wine competitions, like our own Leslie Kelly, have described several characteristics to look for in good oyster wines, "acid & chalk," "light & fresh," and "dry as a bone, clean as a whistle," among them. It's Ernest Hemingway whom Rowley likes to quote however, from A Moveable Feast:

"As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans."

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