Monday, May 16, 2011

The Best Wines for US West Coast and Other Oysters

Picture: Oyster Lover Christian G.E.Schiller Eating Atlantic Oysters

The 2011 Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition

The 2011 Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition has just taken place in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle and the winners have been announced. The wines were blind-tasted with Kumamoto oysters. The 2011 Oyster Award recipients – all wines from either California, Oregon or Washington State - are:

Washington State

2010 Cadaretta 2010 SBS
2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc
2009 Hogue Cellars Pinot Grigio


2009 King Estate Signature Collection Pinot Gris
2010 Van Duzer Vineyards Estate Pinot Gris


2009 Brassfield Estate Winery 2009 Sauvignon Blanc
2010 Kunde Family Estate 2010 Sauvignon Blanc
2010 Pine Ridge Vineyards Chenin Blanc-Viognier
2009 Robledo Family Winery Sauvignon Blanc
2010 Three Pears Pinot Grigio

4 Types of Oysters

The judges consumed about 1200 Kumamoto oysters. The Kumamoto belongs to the family of Pacific oysters. In fact, it is one of the most famous Pacific oysters. But oysters are found all over the world. I recently had delicious oysters in South Africa and Madagascar, which are typically not on the radar of the mainstream oyster eater. 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.

Picture: Oyster Lover Christian G.E.Schiller Eating Atlantic Oysters

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 with oysters, this vibrant combination of minerals, sweetness and the sea?

I have eaten Oysters in many places. I will focus on Europe, the American East and West Coast, Japan, and Africa.

In general, first, 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, although in South Africa I had a Cabernet Sauvignon with my oysters on the half shell, as suggested.


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, one could try an English sparkler. 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, about a year ago, impressing judges more than sparklers from French legends such as Bollinger, Pommery and Louis Roederer. See here.

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 like in particular 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 Sylvaner of Michael Teschke from Rheinhessen.


On the West Coast, I would pick one of the winners of the 2011 Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition (see above). On the East Coast, there are now interesting Sauvingon Blanc wines produced in Long Island and the Finger Lakes region, but which are not so easy to find outside of the region. So probably I would go for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.


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.


I recently had oysters in Stellenbosch in South Africa and Antananarivo in Madagascar. In South Africa, at The Big Easy in Stellenbosch, the bartender suggested oysters (Pacific) with a Cabernet Sauvignon sauce - an unusual, but very delicious combination. With that I had a Rust en Vrede 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Picture: Pacific Oysters in Stellenbosch with Cabernet Sauvignon sauce

The Pacific oyster forms the mainstay of the South African oyster farming industry, with currently 4 million oysters produced annually. In addition, the Namibian oyster production amounts to 6 million oysters per year, with about 70 per cent exported to South Africa.

In Madagascar, I am usually a bit hesitant to eat oysters. But one place, where I have no hesitations is La Rotonde (Hotel Gregoire) in Antananarivo, undoubtedly the best place to eat fish in Tana. An institution, which unfortunately has a bit of a problem to survive in light of the many new-wave restaurants. La Rotonde serves oysters on the half-shell from Mahajanga and Fort Dauphin. La Rotonde has the Grand Cru d’Antsirabe and the Clos Malaza on the wine list (either blanc or gris), both good value Malagasy table wines that go very well with oysters from Madagascar. For more on Malagays wines go here.

schiller-Wine: Related Postings

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

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

Oysters and Wine

In the Glass: A Rust en Vrede 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon With South African Oysters in Stellenbosch

In the Glass: 2007 Riesling trocken from Wuertz Rheinhessen with Oysters at the Ten Bells in the Lower East Side in Manhattan

Wining and Dining in Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar – Christian G.E. Schiller’s Private List of Restaurants in Antananarivo

The Wines of Madagascar - Good and Interesting Table Wines

Christian G.E.Schiller’s Private List of Restaurants in Antananarivo That Serve Malagasy Wine

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