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by Bekah Angoff
The reason that Muscadet is seen as the ultimate oyster pairing comes from the adage “What grows together goes together.”
Many Google searches can provide apt information on wine and oyster pairings. Type “oyster” and “wine pairings” and you will find a slew of suggestions, mostly surrounding Muscadet or anything bone dry. These suggestions are often generalized and may not be the best choice for every oyster. The reason that Muscadet is seen as the ultimate oyster pairing comes from the adage “What grows together goes together.” Muscadet comes from the Loire region of France, which starts at the mouth of the Loire River, which is home to many famed oyster beds.
At the shop, we can carry up to 45 varieties at a time, which are representative of two coasts, four species and three countries. What does this mean? It means that no two oysters are likely to taste the same. You may start to wonder why general wine pairings aren’t more specific if there are so many different oysters available on the market. I decided to experiment a little with some of our best sellers and some classic wine pairings. There must be a better way to note these interactions.
To start this adventure, I went to my favorite wine educator’s house, Roz, with five oyster varieties in tow. The selection included a spectrum of salinity, a spectrum of sweetness, and a spectrum of mineral content. When I presented this tasting to Roz, she immediately brought up Muscadet since it's the quintessential oyster wine. The next proposed was a sparkling wine, which is also a given, yet she chose one that had a closer flavor profile to our Muscadet. The other two wines to round out the selection were requested to be on the dryer side, but could bend the rules a bit. She chose a few that were similar to a Muscadet, with varying levels of floral and fruit notes, and crisp acidity.
Here is what we experimented with:
- Standish Shore, Duxbury, MA – sweet
- Quonnie Rock, RI – briny
- Wallace Bay, Nova Scotia – mineral
- Kaipara, New Zealand – sweet/ briny
- Kusshi, British Columbia – creamy
- Cava, Spain – dry, sparkling
- Vinho Verde, Portugal – dry, floral
- Muscadet, France – dry, fruity
- Pinot Gris, Oregon – dry, cirtus
After playing with the pairings, these were the conclusions we made:
A traditional pairing of Muscadet is a safe bet for a sweet East Coast oyster.
We used Standish to represent a "sweet East Coast" oyster, embodying the sweet and briny side of the oyster flavor spectrum typical of many Cape-style oysters. We first sipped Cava, and immediately it was apparent that the match was really off. The texture of the wine and the texture of the meat fought each other in such a way that it left both elements flavorless and bland. The Muscadet on the other hand, accentuated the sweetness in the oyster while slightly muting the salinity. The end result was an immaculately clean finish, which sang on the palate.
A sparkling wine with floral notes will do wonders for a briny East Coast oyster.
A Quonnie Rock is briny, which is evidence of being raised in a Rhode Island salt pond. It's a North Eastern oyster, so the typical choice would be to follow suit with the classic Muscadet pairing. But this was not the case at all! The pairing of Muscadet to the oyster rendered the wine bland and watery, and left the oyster flavorless in return. The Cava, on the other hand, accentuated the effervescence of the wine, and the salt in the oyster heightened the residual sweetness.
A bone dry selection will give a mineral East Coast oyster more depth.
Here is another example where the Muscadet is the biggest disappointment in the whole line up. When paired with a Wallace Bay, a mineral East Coast oyster, it was an identical experience as with the Quonnie Rock. The two left almost no impression on the palate, as they canceled each other out. Here is where it gets interesting. The Vinho Verde was the best choice with this oyster. The acidity of this wine brings out the sweetness in the oyster, giving it a brand new dimension.
Muscadet wins with briny and fruity West Coast oysters.
Even though Kaipara Oysters are from the other side of the world, it is more of a West Coast style oyster with an East Coast brine. The Muscadet was perfect for this oyster as it highlighted the watermelon finish and silky texture. The Pinot Gris, on the other hand, rendered in to a rotten grapefruit aroma with the Kaipara, which was not pleasant at all.
A playful crisp white will be lovely with creamy West Coast oysters.
Kusshi Oysters are a West Coast favorite. This oyster has a signature cucumber finish with a meaty bite and creamy texture. The best fit for this oyster was the Pinot Gris, as the bone-dry nature of the wine created a lush texture with the oyster, and the oyster helped bring out a pleasant acidity in the wine. The Muscadet was terrible with the Kusshi, as the overall flavor was bitter and metallic.
Oysters cannot be paired with wine in a vacuum. The first step to pairing is to identify what type of oyster flavor you have. Is it sweet? Briny? Have a melon finish? Not all oysters work with Muscadet, and they shouldn't. If oysters are different, so should their wine pairings. There are a various ways to pair oysters with wine, but in the end, it all comes down to preference. Our palates perceive flavor and taste differently, so really, drink what you like!