Due to oysters being a high-end delicacy it may be confusing to some people on how to eat them and what to drink alongside them. The strange shape and the briny texture of the raw oyster can turn many people away from them the first time they are offered them. It’s not a food that everyone is going to take to and this is why it can be confusing if you are new to them. If it’s your first time in a restaurant and oysters are brought to the table you might find yourself looking towards your dining companions, hoping to follow their lead.
Oysters are reared and harvested in various manners which changes how the oyster will be shaped and its final taste. When they are harvested naturally they are collected with rakes from the seabed. In shallow water, they can be picked up by hand or by using a short rake. In deeper water, longer rakes and tongs are used as well as dredging in some places.
When farmed, oysters are normally farmed in cages or in a pole and line system in a manner that they don’t rest on the seabed. This means that barnacles and other pests that disrupt the harvesting process are avoided, meaning that there is a greater return of oysters. The pole and line method mean that the oysters can be raised for feeding meaning that an experienced oysterman can alter the final product down to the taste requirements of the customer.
What exactly are oysters?
Oysters are a shellfish that has been consumed since prehistoric times, being part of the staple diet of many coastal communities. Nowadays these mollusks are enjoyed in exquisite restaurants as a luxury delight. It’s often seen as being a delicacy that’s associated as being something that only the rich and famous partake in. This is actually far from the truth. In the nineteenth century, they were mostly consumed by the working classes. New York harbor was, in fact, the largest source of harvested oysters in the world with around six million thought to have been harvested daily from the east coast waters during the late nineteenth-century.
It was this that helped to build New York’s now world-famous restaurant industry. The huge demand for them, however, ended up causing the bay to have its stocks eliminated due to disease from the introduction of foreign oysters. After this, it started to become a delicacy as it became harder and harder to find fresh oysters on the East coast.
These days it’s the west coast that dominates the oyster-eating culture in the states. The coast nearby wine rich region, Napa Valley makes it the perfect location in America to enjoy oysters with a glass of dry white wine in one of the many oyster bars in the area. With views over the Pacific, California sunset and nothing between you and Japan, there really isn’t a better place in the whole world to enjoy these two pleasures of life.
How to eat oysters
To eat an oyster simply take your fork and prod the oyster to make sure it is not still attached to its shell. Place your fork to the side, and take the oyster shell in your hand once you have shucked it. Have the wide side facing you and slurp the oyster from the shell. Chew it a couple of times and swallow it. There is the saying that you’re supposed to swallow it whole, however, this will take away from the taste of the fish.
So it’s best to take your time and enjoy this urchin delight. Your oysters will likely be served with some accompaniments such as red wine vinegar, lemon, and cocktail sauce. Although it doesn’t seem like something that’s too important, this shall alter whether or not your wine of choice shall work well with your oysters, should you choose to adorn them atop of your food. Here’s a quick guide on how to eat oysters correctly
You should also be able to try and tell whether or not you are eating a good oyster. Oysters come in all shapes of sizes depending on their location and the age they were harvested. If it’s a good oyster it shouldn’t be transparent. If you can see through the briny flesh it means that it lacked nutrition in its life. The oyster should cover or almost cover most of the shell surface. If your oyster smells terrible then hand it back to the waiter. Food poisoning from fish is not something to mess about with.
Although they are completely different things, oysters and wine hold a few similarities in their creation process before they go on to meet each other as a classic combination. The quality and taste of a wine is dependant on the grape. The weather and botany of the region the wine is grown in means that wine from one region has different taste notes to one in another. Not just from country to country, this can also apply between the different wine regions of France.
Oysters are similar in this respect. The flavor of the oyster depends on where it was raised with the ocean temperature, the salt levels, and the age in which it was harvested all alter the taste. This leaves you with a distinct variety of different types of oysters which are locational and season dependent, much like wine.
Selecting a wine for pairing
When you’re sat at the table with your oysters you’ll likely have a glass of wine at the side. This is where it can be difficult choosing what to drink alongside it as oysters are often a rare treat that you’re not used to eating. It’s also a difficult thing to choose as oysters are a delicate thing on the palate and the slightest wrong match alongside them can ruin the taste. On the other hand, if you choose what wine you want correctly then oysters can be something that completely wins you over.
Perhaps you’ve had them before but didn’t enjoy them so much. This could be down to the wine that you drank alongside it. If so, we advise taking a read through our guide to drinking wine with oysters and giving it another go with your newly found knowledge.
The first rule of drinking wine with oysters is to never choose red wine. The heavy tannins in the wine do not complement the taste of oysters in the slightest. It brings forth a strong, unpleasant taste that will make you not want to finish your oysters or your wine. The wine shall also over mask the taste of the oyster making it a pointless exercise ordering oysters in the first place.
As with most seafood, it is often best to choose white wine over red. The best types of white wines are crisp dry white ones such as champagne, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio. Read on in order to discover which ones go the best with your oysters and why!
Champagne as an accompaniment to oysters
Let’s begin our oyster pairing review with the classic pairing of oysters and Champagne. Both oysters and champagne have been associated as being beacons of royalty and prestige for centuries. Both of them hold connotations of the nineteenth-century French aristocracy hosting glamorous balls in the magnificent palaces of the countryside.
It’s this association with wealth that has made both of these enjoyable treats so popular amongst the middle classes of today. Now it’s not something that’s only reserved for those with millions. Champagne and oysters can now be an affordable pleasure that can be relished on special occasions.
Different types of Champagne contain a range of sweetness levels. Brut nature or Extra brut contains very little or no sugar in them. Their bitter taste means that they go particularly well with citrusy seafood. If your oysters are being served with a drizzle of lemon atop then this is an ideal selection to enjoy alongside your oysters. Champagne and raw oysters are a heavenly matched apéritif to begin a special event. The sheer range of champagne means that it can be slightly mindboggling at times when trying to choose the right Champagne for a special occasion.
We recommend Champagne A. Margaine Extra Brut as one option. This is dry, sharp, crispy and matches up well with raw oysters. Another that you should take note of is NV André Jacquart Champagne Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Experience has citrusy tasting notes making it an ideal pairing with oysters laced with lemon. At the end of the day, a Champagne sparkling wine is the high-grade combination as an oyster pairing.
Chardonnay as an accompaniment to oysters
Originating in France, but now grown in most wine regions worldwide Chardonnay has become extremely popular over the past thirty years. Mostly it comes oaked, but in a lesser-known manner, you can also purchase it unoaked. Oaked Chardonnay is aged in barrels where it undergoes malolactic fermentation.
This releases acid into the wine and gives oaked Chardonnay a creamy and buttery taste due to the same acids being released in milk. Unoaked Chardonnay is instead stored in stainless steel, plastic, or concrete vats. This means that that the malolactic fermentation process does not occur and culminates in a fruity taste as opposed to a buttery one.
Oaked Chardonnay does not match up well with raw oysters in the slightest. The creamy taste of the wine draws too sharp a contrast with the oyster making it hard to stomach. If the oysters are fried and served in a creamy sauce however, they match up perfectly. The oily and smooth buttery taste of the oyster goes hand-in-hand with a lightly creamed Chardonnay.
A heavy, unoaked Chardonnay is generally a winner when it’s enjoyed with raw oysters. As unoaked Chardonnay contains fruity notes as opposed to creamy ones it means that the wine matches up perfectly with taste and texture of a raw oyster. When it comes to cooked oysters its best to stick with the oaked Chardonnay as they’re almost an invincible combination. Both unoaked and oaked Chardonnay are well worth your while for trying with oysters – just remember never have oaked Chardonnay if you’re eating them raw!
Another range of wine that pairs well with oysters is Sauvignon Blanc. Sauvignon Blanc is a range of grapes that hail from the Bordeaux region of France although now it is produced globally in many wine regions. It was in the 1980s when New Zealand started to produce it, that it became a household name and now ranks as the third most popular wine in America. With prices of a New Zealand bottle ranging from $5-$30, it’s certainly an affordable option if you consume it with oysters.
Sauvignon Blanc is a universally loved white wine and it pairs well with magnitudes of foods. Like Chardonnay, it is best to go for an unoaked Sauvignon Blanc. It’s always a winner and you shan’t be disappointed.
Italian Pinot Grigio
Pinot Grigio is a dry and highly acidic white wine. It’s commonly thought to be from Italy however origins lie in Burgundy in eastern France, where it was known as Pinot Gris. In the 12th century, it made its way into Switzerland and then on to the mountains of northern Italy.
This is where the real Pinot Grigio story begins. From here it became the most adored wine in Italy, and then went onto become the most popular imported wine in the States. It’s a household name and we’re sure you are familiar with it. Its familiarity makes it a safe bet when choosing it with oysters.
It’s not too different from Sauvignon Blanc as it is similar in its dryness and high acid levels. It’s this dryness and acidity that makes it an every time winner when it’s enjoyed alongside oysters. The region from where your oysters are from doesn’t seem to matter when you are pairing it with Pinot Grigio as its a well balanced and fairly neutral wine.
Muscadet wine is also a great oyster and wine pairing. This wine comes from the Loire Valley close to the Atlantic. The proximity of the Atlantic to the location gives it minerality and saltiness. This lines it up to be something that is perfect to be enjoyed with seafood. It’s an extremely dry wine and is light in its nature. Its also a very budget-friendly one meaning if you want to save a few dollars whilst eating oysters, it’s a good pick.
The sea cuisine around Nates means that it is a wine that has over time being made in a manner that makes it fit in perfectly to the regional cuisine. The high acid levels in the wine also make it an ideal palate cleanser to cleanse your mouth of the oysters and prepare it for the next course.
It’s not only dry crisp whites that pair well with oysters. A bottle of French rosé is also a great match if dry whites aren’t quite your thing. Although traditionally it’s not often viewed as being a classy wine drinking option, it is something that is starting to become fashionable once again.
Like red wine, rosé is made from red grapes that contain tannins. As mentioned before heavy tannins cause your oysters to taste terrible. However, during the fermentation process of making rosé, the process is very short. This means that the amount of tannins released is fairly low which is why rosé is a mild pink color and giving it a unique flavor.
Most rosé wine gives off a fruity taste such as red fruits, melons, and strawberries. It is treated more like a white wine than a red and is best served chilled. It also works best with light meals such as salads and seafood. The rosé allows the flavor of the oyster to remain on your palate for longer, perfect for enjoying them slowly.
It also helps to show off the elusive tastes of the oyster, drawing out the flavors for your enjoyment. Being a sparkling wine it’s bubbly nature satisfies the tongue even further. As well as this, the bubbles are ideal for cleansing your palate afterward.
When it comes to choosing a rosé its best to go for a fruity one and not a sweet one. Fruity ones are pleasant to drink and complement the fishy flavors well. Sweet ones, on the other hand, take away from the taste and are not recommended to be enjoyed alongside food in general. It’s an alternative option to drinking along with oysters but its one that we truly recommend!
Dry white wine and oysters are now not only for the rich and famous. The wine world has changed so dramatically in the last thirty years that to get a fine tasting wit doesn’t have to be an expensive French import. The grapes from the different French regions are now grown worldwide – New Zealand, Chile, California – with the competitiveness meaning that delicious wines can now be enjoyed in most households. Similarly, oysters are now something that can be an affordable delicacy meaning that you can surprise guests to your home with an apéritif of white wine and oysters.
There’s a whole range of wines that are appropriate to drink alongside oysters. The range that we have discussed doesn’t nearly cover every wine you can drink alongside them. If it’s a dry white with high acidity then it tends to complement the oysters well so feel free to try a preferred wine if it meets these criteria.
Although they are often still regarded as being a special treat, we understand that you want to have the correct wine the first time. We hope that this blog post has inspired you to go back out there and try oysters with a strong knowledge of what wine works with it and wine doesn’t.
Bonus tip: Check out this short video for a brief overview of oysters and why you should drink white wine with them!