Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Oysters and Wine

Christian G.E. Schiller eating Oysters with a Dr. Frank Riesling, Finger Lakes, New York State, US

4 Types of Oysters

Oysters are found all over the world. I distinguish 4 types of Oysters:

The Pacific

Originally from Japan, the Pacific or Japanese oyster is the most widely cultured oyster in the world. It accounts for 75% of world production. In France, it has crowded out the Belon and now accounts for 99% of oyster production there. Gone are the days of the Belon in Paris.

The Pacific oysters are marketed under a variety of names, often denoting their growing area. The Kumamoto is one of the most famous Pacific oysters. I tend to think of a Pacific oyster as a creamy oyster, with a mineral note.

The Olympia

The Olympia is a very small oyster seldom exceeding 2 inches. For comparison, in Massachusetts, oysters must be a minimum of 3 inches to be sold. Olympia is a native American oyster, which once flourished on the West Coast, before the Pacific took over. Olympias are hard to find today as they grow very slowly and are difficult to transport. They hold very little liquid and dry out quickly. The Olympia has a very full flavor with a distinct aftertaste.

The Atlantic

Another American native, there are many varieties of Atlantic oysters, such as the Malpeque from Prince Edward Island in Canada and the Blue Point from Long Island in New York State. Bluepoints were originally named for Blue Point, Long Island but now the term is generally applied to any Atlantic oyster two four inches long. These two are now the most common restaurant oysters in the US.

Also called Eastern oyster, the Atlantic has a thick, elongated shell that ranges from 2 to 5 inches across. It's found along the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico in the US.

The Belon

The Belon, or European Flat, is Europe’s native oyster. The Belons are round and shallow. That’s why they are called Flats. They are also not very liquid and dry out fast. They have a long history. They used to grow in Brittany, Normandy, England, Spain, Holland, Greece and the Black See. But a disease is wiping them out worldwide. The Flats from the Belon river in Brittany were at some point the connoisseur’s top choice and the name was soon adopted by all oyster growers, a bit like the Blue Points from Long Island. The Belon oyster grows in limited quantity in Maine on the rocks of the Damariscotta river bed.

Wine that goes with Oysters

What wine do I drink? I have eaten Oysters in many places. I will focus on Europe, the American East and West Coast and Japan.


First, in general, I always try to go local. Second, the best oyster wines are dry, crisp, clean-finishing white wines, both sparkling and still. I avoid red wines and the sweeter style German Rieslings.

In Europe, where now most likely you will eat a Pacific, a Champagne or another sparkler would be the perfect marriage and my first choice. In London, I would be very interested to taste the new star on the sparkler market, a Nyetimber. The English sparkler Nyetimber's Classic Cuvee 2003 was crowned champion of worldwide sparkling wines in the 2nd annual "Bollicine Del Mondo" competition in Verona, Italy, a few months ago, impressing judges more than sparklers from French legends such as Bollinger, Pommery and Louis Roederer. See here. I Germany, I would go for one of the many excellent Winzersekte (brut) , which are widely available, such as the one from Fitz Ritter (which I tasted recently with Alice Fitz Ritter in Washington DC; see here). In France, of course a Champagne, if possible the regular Taittinger.

Then of course, in Europe, a Sancerre, a Muscadet or a Cablis are perfect matches. These wines come from the northern region of France where Mother Nature does not produce these ripe gapes and instead lean, grassy wines with a ringing tartness.

I in particular like the Muscadet with oysters. It is made from the Melon grape grown in the granite soils of Muscadet, where the Loire runs into the North Atlantic. Made "sur lie," kept on the "lees" or sedimented yeast left over after fermentation until bottling, Muscadet gains earthy, yeasty and stony flavors from this process and from the soil, mingled with tart lemon-zest and green-apple flavors from the cool-weather grape. It's a natural with fresh oysters, and a good pick with all kinds of seafood and fish.

In Germany, I would go for a dry Silvaner, a grape that reminds me a lot of Sauvignon Blanc and that in its heydays was used for cheap blends, but is experiencing a strong comeback as autochtonous grape in Franken and Rheinhessen. See for example the wines of Michael Teschke, Stuart Pigott's Discovery of the Year.


In the US, on the East Coast, there are now interesting Sauvingon Blanc wines produced in Long Island and the Finger Lakes region, but which are outside of the region not so easy to find. So probably I would go for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. On the West Coast, a Sauvignon Blanc from Washington State would be my first choice.


In Japan, I would definitely experiment with the Koshu grape, which is now entering the world market; if not available I would go for a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.

Generally, it should be a dry, crisp and fruity white wine - still or sparkling. Definitely not a red wine, nor a sweet wine.

Schiller Wine - Related Postings

In the Glass: Volker Raumland Sekt Estate - The Discovery of the Year, Eichelmann 2010

German Wine Basics: Sekt

Wine region: Champagne

German Wine Makers in the World: Eduard Werle - Owner of the Veuve Cliquot Champagne House

Nyetimber's Classic Cuvee 2003 from England has been Crowned Champion of Worldwide Sparkling Wines

In the Glass: A 2007 Sylvaner trocken "Vom Langen Sterk" from Michael Teschke, Rheinhessen, Germany

Japan: Sake or Koshu Wine

Wine Tasting Notes: Woelffer Wines from Long Island, New York State - Nov. 23, 2009

Wine Tasting: Castello di Borghese, Long Island, New York State - November 18, 2009

New Hampshire, US: Cheese ... Lobster and Oysters ... and Wine!


  1. Here is a great article on raw versus grilled oysters, including the best places to eat oysters in the SF Bay area.

  2. What no oysters from the Gulf of Mexico???

  3. This was great info - Thanks!

  4. - very interesting article about oysters