The Bliss Factor: The Magic of Pairing Wine and Oysters

Rodney and I were more than delighted to accept a recent invitation to a seminar exploring “The Bliss Factor” of the perfect food and wine pairing. Held at Jasper White’s Summer Shack in Boston on January 27, the seminar featured two wineries and an expert on oysters from around the world.

I have to admit that I know very little about oysters. I like them, but invariably rely on the advice of the people I’m sharing a meal with or the waitstaff when it comes to making a selection from the raw bar. But Rowan Jacobsen might change all that. The author of A Geography of Oysters and the recently-published American Terroir: Savoring the Flavors of Our Woods, Waters, and Fields, Rowan spoke knowledgeably about how – as with wine – the origin of the oyster influences its flavor. For this particular tasting, four of the five oysters came from Washington state and one from Cape Cod. Their flavors had an incredible range, from creamy to briny to earthy. With Rowan to guide us through the origins and profiles of these oysters, I began to understand, and want to learn more about, oysters.

The oysters were paired with three wines from The Crossings winery in Awatere Valley, located in the Marlborough region of New Zealand’s South Island, and two Pinot Grigios made by Barone Fini in Italy’s Trentino-Alto Adige. It was a real treat to have The Crossings winemaker Matt Mitchell and Barone Fini’s President Giovanni Bonmartini-Fini at the seminar to talk about their wines.

Though their histories could almost define Old World and New Worlds – Barone Fini has been making wine for more than 500 years, whereas The Crossings was founded in 2001 in a relatively new viticultural region – both wineries are keenly aware of their individual terroirs and use that to create wines that have a purity of fruit and reflect the land from which they came. Giovanni explained that Barone Fini’s vineyards are located on mountainside terraces with natural irrigation from mountain spring water. They use no fertilizers or pesticides and practice minimal intervention in the winemaking process to achieve purity and balance. The soils of the region are a dolomite seabed, which imparts minerality.

The Crossings is certified for practicing sustainable agriculture at each of their three vineyard sites. The climate of the Awatere Valley is cooler than Marlborough’s better-known region, the Wairau Valley. Awatere has a long growing season, with cool days and even cooler nights that result in what Matt describes as an “exuberant” acidity.  The aim is to create wines that have intense fruit and minerality, and that show strong varietal character.

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Here are the wine and oyster pairings:

2010 The Crossings Sauvignon Blanc

Kumamoto oyster (Oakland Bay, WA)

Unmistakably New Zealand: grassy, pink grapefruit, gooseberry, and slightly floral. The Crossing Sauvignon Blanc is steely and crisp, but has a nice ripeness and good, mouthfilling body and long finish.  The wine dominated the oyster, which was not as salty as far as oysters go.

2009 Barone Fini Valdadige

Blue Pool oyster (Hama Hama River, WA)

The Pinot Grigio from Valdadige has a soft, pleasant nose that has a lot of apple, tropical fruit, lemon, and minerality. Delicious, creamy oyster.

2009 The Crossings Unoaked Chardonnay

Wild Onset oyster (Buzzards Bay, MA)

The unoaked Chardonnay had great stone fruit and lemon. It is very nice and has an added richness from lees stirring.  The oyster tasted like the ocean we grew up on. It was nice and briny, and was the meatiest of the five oysters. Here, the oyster dominated the wine.

2009 Barone Fini Alto Adige

Totten Inlet Pacific oyster (Totten Inlet, WA)

Red apple, melon, and spice make this ripe wine a standout. My favorite wine of the tasting. It was a good match to the oyster, which had a strong, “bottom of the sea” character.

2009 The Crossings Pinot Noir

Olympia oyster (Totten Inlet, WA)

Despite the bright cherry, spice, and hints of tea, there’s something slightly green about this wine. Nevertheless it was good on its own, but even better with the Olympia oyster, with its Portobello mushroom and forest floor flavors.  An unexpected, but perfect pairing where the wine and oyster complemented each other. My favorite pairing of the tasting.

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In addition to having increased my knowledge of oysters manifold, The Bliss Factor seminar is making me rethink Italian Pinot Grigio and New Zealand wines. For several years now, I have steered away from the former, because I had had too many that were light and fairly unremarkable. The two Barone Fini wines were crisp, food-friendly, value-priced, clean, fruity, and most importantly enjoyable. As for New Zealand, I cannot think of another region where there is such typicity. Is there any other wine that is quite as recognizable as New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc? I think you would be hard pressed to find another example. The wines presented by The Crossings do not deviate, but they are well-made, fresh, crowd-pleasing, and, as with the Barone Fini wines, really well-priced for the quality.

I know for certain that I will be serving these wines at a future “day-job” function!

The Bliss Factor was organized and presented by W.J. Deutsch & Sons, the White Plains, New York-based importer with a globe-spanning portfolio of wines.

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Author:katrin

Katrin is one of the co-founders of Wine Dine With Us. She enjoys sharing her love of wine on the blog, and is particularly fond of wines from Argentine, Alto Adige, and Germany. A lifelong environmentalist, Katrin has become increasingly interested in issues of sustainability in wine and food, local food production, biodynamics, and organic agriculture. When not drinking wine and writing about it, she is a nonprofit professional, specializing in fundraising and special events.

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