There are few foods in this world as deceptively simple as a good oyster. This classic shellfish is described any number of ways, from meaty to delicate, clean to briny, fruity to mineral. If those sound like tasting notes, that’s because they are. Much like fine wine, the region and conditions an oyster hails from create a unique flavor profile. This, as you can imagine, makes for ample wine pairing opportunities. When paired well, wine and oysters play off each other in a beautiful balance that brings out all the best notes of each. For a truly enjoyable experience, sit back and enjoy a glass alongside a half shell.
The Basics of Oyster Wine Pairing
Whether you’re a long-time oyster lover or brand new to this culinary delight, there’s a whole new world to be discovered with a proper oyster wine pairing. Where to begin? Champagne springs immediately to mind. After, is there anything more classic than oysters and champagne? While our favorite French bubbly is the perfect complement to many of our little bivalve friends, we’d never stop there. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface.
Before we can choose a proper wine, we must understand that all oysters aren’t created equal. Let’s start by considering west coast versus east coast oysters, for example. The oceans on either end of the continental United States offer surprisingly different temperatures and conditions, resulting in seafood, from lobster to mollusks, with its own unique flavor profile. Oysters hailing from the east are typically meatier and saltier, particularly the farther south you go. Pacific oysters, on the other hand, tend toward the more delicate, buttery side.
Bringing out and complimenting those specific flavors is paramount when selecting an accompanying wine. Go too bold and you’ll wash out the understated notes of certain oysters, while a wine that’s too light or creamy will be overpowered by an especially briny selection. Not sure which species to order? Here’s a fantastic primer from Bon Appetit on how to order oysters. Knowing which flavor profile to expect will give you a leg up when it comes time to select your wine pairing.
Wine and Oysters: A Perfect Match
A carefully selected wine highlights and compliments every course of a meal, from a crisp sparkling wine with the starter to a layered vintage port with the chocolate dessert. Oysters are especially well-known for developing flavors based on their environments, similar to the terroir of wine.
Food preparation also plays a significant role in which wine and oysters will be the best match. Raw oysters on the half shell require a different profile than Oysters Rockefeller or poached oysters in a cream sauce. Just as you’d carefully select a Zinfandel to stand up to a duck breast or a Riesling to complement a cheese course, you’ll want to give the same amount of consideration to your oysters’ preparation when choosing your wine. When they hit the mark perfectly, both your food and drink will sing together in a beautiful duet.
Choosing the Best Wine With Oysters
It’s plain to see that there are infinite potential combinations for flavor between wine and oysters, so we’ve put togethe our five favorite recommendations based on preparation and flavor profile. Read on for a varietal, along with a specific recommendation from our selection. Salud!
This list simply couldn’t exist without bubbles, so let’s get started right. Champagne is, of course, a classic choice when paired with raw oysters and other light ocean fare—the drier the better, in our opinion, though some residual sugar can lend the slightest touch of sweetness to balance saltier oysters. Champagne works well in this pairing because it shares some of an oyster’s flavor profile, namely the minerality, and the wine’s acidity stands up to the salt. We suggest the Lanson Noble Cuvee Blanc de Blancs Brut, which is made from Chardonnay grapes and aged to perfection so the fruit is less pronounced and the mineral notes and acidity stand strong.
Another varietal that had to make the list, Chablis is characterized by a number of factors—it's made from 100% Chardonnay grapes hailing from the cooler Burgundy region of France—but perhaps the most notable is that the soil where the grapes are grown contains ancient marine fossils including oyster shells. This lends the wine a truly unique set of tasting notes, from its high acidity to its complex minerality. An ideal pairing for both oysters on the half shell and heavier preparations like fried oysters or creamy sauces. Try the 2017 Domaine Pinson Chablis les Clos for its saline, minerally notes. This is, perhaps, the best wine for oysters to be found.
3. California Brut Rosé
For fruitier oysters like Kumamotos, consume exuberantly with a brut rosé from California to fully enjoy their sweetness. While this sparkling wine has much in common with champagne, it’s made with red wine grapes to give it a rosy pink hue and more fruit-forward notes of berry and stone fruit. It often boasts floral notes as well. Certain vintages of Schramsberg Brut Rosé are an oft-recommended pairing with Thomas Keller’s famed Oysters and Pearls dish served at The French Laundry and Per Se.
Among the multitude of tasting notes you’ll find for both oysters and wine, you’re likely to find references to “biscuit” or yeasty flavors, and aged Muscadet wines offer these flavors in spades. A fantastic find, they not only offer crisp, clean notes and bright acidity, they're also eminently affordable, rarely exceeding $20 or so a bottle. Have several bottles on hand for at-home barbecued oyster nights or to bring along to your favorite oyster bar.
This is yet another French offering, this time hailing from an ancient sea bed and made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes, known for their bright fruit. The combination results in complex whites with notes of fruit and spice along with an often flint-tinged edge. A highly enjoyable wine to sip while enjoying a variety of oysters with mignonette sauce. Open a bottle of 2016 Domaine Alphonse Mellot Sancerre for an excellent experience.
JJ Buckley Offers Fine Wines
JJ Buckley hopes this primer on pairing wine and oysters has helped with your next culinary adventure. Our team is always sourcing top-rated wines for our customers and we would love to help you expand your collection and enjoy your wine to its fullest potential. Need specific recommendations for an oyster wine pairing? Our wine consultants are here to assist.