Note from the Artist: In this series, I want to share a quick insight into wines that are great for the season and the foods they love to spend time with. Enjoy!
With the ocean waters cooling in the Northern Hemisphere, and seafood getting firmer as a result, the "R" months are prime time to enjoy fresh raw oysters. Crisp, clean white wines are a classic way to bring out the delicate complexity of just-shucked oysters. But there are more unusual options that work well, too, which can be fun if you're feeling like casting aside tradition to taste something new.
Classic Pairing: Muscadet
Muscadet comes in as the ultimate oyster wine for its outrageous leanness. The briny minerality of the wine dances with the seafresh saline of an oyster on the half shell. It's a heavenly match. For nice value and an enchanting tang, look to Andre-Michel Bérgeon. Muscadet ages well, but keeping to recent vintages will suit the raw seafood.
Classic Pairing: Chablis and Chadonnay-Based Bubbles
The classic raw oyster pairings begin in France with fully dry nonvintage Blanc de blancs Champagnes, or recent-vintage Chablis. Both wines are made from Chardonnay grown in genuinely cool climates and mineral-rich soils, keeping the fruit juicy and tightly focused. The bubbles in Champagne and the flint accents of Chablis help accent the mineral qualities of oysters, making the whole combination taste fresh and reminiscent of the sea. We're not looking for aged examples here—you want young wine's fresh lifted flavor to work with the briny body of the oyster.
When it comes to Chardonnay based wines for the half shell, I prefer the Old World options. Though I'm a fan of new world Chardonnays, in many cases putting them alongside raw oysters makes the wine seem more oily than it feels on its own. The ultra tight wine of Northern France works best. Look for Pierre Gimonnet Premier Cru Brut NV for a bright and citrusy Champagne. From Chablis, recent wines by Domaine Drouhin Vaudon give approachable and affordable options.
Classic Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc
Cool climate Sauvignon Blanc offers another lean and focused, mineral-driven choice. In France, look to Sancerre, where the wine is all about flinty linearity. Daniel Chotard makes a focused, but slightly creamier option with a long finish. Or, to venture out of the Old World, turn to the cool climate area of Leyda on Chile's coast. The region is kept chilled by the Humboldt Current bringing cold temperatures up from Antarctica. The Viña Leyda Garuma Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc is a screaming deal for the quality, and it offers the racy acidity oysters like alongside pleasing fruit accents.
Playful Pairing: Txakoli
Spritzy Txakoli from Basque country is a fun option for those who want to try something new while still sticking with white wine. It's refreshing, affordable, and more and more easy to track down in the US. Ameztoi Getariako Txakolina gives a stark tang at a great price, and Talai Berri Getariako Txakolina brings a little more fruit and a lot of length.
Playful Pairing: Irish Stout
If you're tired of wine but still want something good to drink with your oysters, consider Irish stout. We didn't invent this one; it's an affordable option with a long history that works remarkably well. The roasted malt and creamy texture of the beer complement the salty slurp of the seafood. Murphy's and Guinness are two widely available options, though your local craft brewery might have an interesting Irish-style stout to try.
Playful Pairing: Chiroubles
White wines aren't the only wines that work with oysters. Take a risk and look to the gamay grape. We tasted through a wide range of lighter reds with raw oysters, and the winners by far were wines from Chiroubles (they're Cru Beaujolais.) With clean red fruit focus, nice acidity, and easy going tannin, these worked best of any reds we tried.
Other reds either intensified earthy-stank elements of the seafood too much, or hid the oyster entirely. It was interesting to see how the oysters affected the wine's flavors. When sipping white wines with oysters, the wine carried the shellfish zip-zang-slurp through the mouth. With reds, though, the wrong pairing made the wine taste extra metallic and earthy in a bad way.
But those bad pairings shouldn't steer you away from red wine and oysters. Try Chiroubles! We found that gamay from Domaine des Marrans danced and offered anise and floral notes alongside the oyster in a way it didn't on its own. The Karim Vionnet Vin de Kav uncurled savory elements alongside a long saline finish when paired with the oysters. It's an unexpected adventure we highly recommend.
About the Artist: Hawk Wakawaka is a wine drawing philosopher with a heart of gold. She also writes the website Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews.