Usually, when one speaks of “terroir,” it’s about a wine’s true sense of place – its origin and the soil. The back-label copy on many wine bottles speaks to this elusive trait, paying homage to this French word and its precepts.
Seafood and shellfish, though usually considered the delicacies of the deep, don’t always maintain a lofty standing when one digs up the “dirt.” After all, detractors of these morsels deride them as mere bottom feeders. People who aren’t fans of lobster – perhaps influenced by its expense – scoff that it’s just a big, bottom-of-the-sea bug.
Similarly, oysters share this murky and silt-laden waterscape all over the world. But, believe it or not, the bottom of saltwater bays and inlets is, literally, a terroir for these gnarled shellfish — providing a wide range of flavors.
Oyster expert and author Rowan Jacobsen calls these elements “flavor landscapes” – whether on dry land or under water – and touts the “taste of place.” Because oysters are constantly filtering the water around them, they acquire the unique traits of their habitat. The sea bottom is, in fact, a crucial element in taste, not just some mysterious underwater real estate.
So here’s a little pearl of wisdom: There are some great value wines to pair with these interesting and delicious creatures. Speaking to oyster lovers only now – raw, on-the-half-shell oysters are one of life’s greatest treasures. For an oyster lover who also enjoys imbibing, a double indulgence awaits.
“It is a great experience to taste through a number of oysters from different areas, paired with wines from different countries and regions,” says Jason Gutierrez, Illinois’ District Sales Manager with W.J. Deutsch & Sons. “Oysters and wine share a similarity: their taste profiles are influenced by where they come from.”
Here are a few locally available options to begin an oyster-and-wine odyssey:
Barone Fini Pinot Grigio Valdadige 2009: This is perhaps one of the most versatile oyster wines around. “The Barone Fini is unique for a Pinot Grigio, in that it’s softer and cleaner than most Pinot Grigios,” says Gutierrez. It has a nice floral aroma, with flavors of apple and citrus – and it’s especially good with sweeter, Pacific oysters. But it has just enough acidity to stand up to a briny East Coast oyster, too. $12.
Sevre et Maine Sur Lie Muscadet 2009: Nice pear and citrus aromas start off the experience with this delicious French Muscadet – a varietal synonymous with seafood enjoyment. On the palate, there’s a nice tartness of fruit, lots of minerality and even a hint of nutty character. Blue Points or Gulf oysters would be nice with this wine, taking special care to avoid using cocktail sauce. $15.
The Crossings Awatere Valley, Marlborough, Sauvignon Blanc 2009: Nice, fresh Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand with lots of tropical aromas and flavors. There’s also lots of peach and a nice honeydew finish. Stick with the Pacific oysters here, especially ones from Washington like the Kumamoto (originally from Japan), or the Blue Pool from the Hama Hama River. $13.