Hooray, there’s an R in the month at last. This means, of course, that oysters are back on the menu where they belong and I couldn’t be more delighted. To me they are nothing less than small quivering blobs of salty, succulent, decadent pleasure. My father used to eat them by the bucket-load whenever and wherever he could.
“Ah! Just like an angel copulating on your tongue,” was his traditional September greeting to the first seasonal dozen of Whitstable’s finest. His sighs of pleasure would be met by an equally traditional response from my mother. “More like eating a sneeze,” she would mutter with a shudder. I don’t often disagree with her, but in this instance she’s so wrong and my father so right.
I had a deeply satisfying pre-season plate of them the other day in Boston, Mass, at Neptune Oyster in Salem Street, where they seem untroubled by the R-in-the-month convention. This tiny temple to all things marine and eatable (steamed Wellfleet littlenecks anyone, or Jonah crab claws?) has just nudged Grand Central Station, NYC, into second place as my new favourite spot in which to schloop down some oysters.
Given that they had a dozen different varieties to choose from, I couldn’t help but have one of each as a starter. I then chose my favourite six and had another plate of these just to be sure. I toasted their arrival with something rather tasty, too: a sparkling chardonnay/pinot noir blend from Westport Rivers, Mass. And no, I didn’t know Massachusetts made wine either, but this was delicious: crisp, yet softly honeyed, rounded and fruity. It worked a treat.
Sparkling wine is always a great match, the freshness of the fizz complementing the oysters’ salty tang. But if you’re really pushing the boat out, of course, genuine champagne is the perfect partner. It’s suitably opulent and self-indulgent and ideal if you’re flinging woo over the crustacea (after all, both oysters and champagne are renowned for their aphrodisiac properties). I had a friend who liked to guzzle his oyster and then pour a little vintage fizz into the empty shell, swill it around and offer it to his date to glug. He swore it worked every time and that it would only be a matter of an hour or so before they were back at hers in a recumbent posture.
On this occasion I was alone and dateless and so, after my initial glass of Westport Rivers Brut Cuvée, I moved on to some Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa. Crisp, clean and zesty with lovely ripe fruit and a dry finish, it was a neat match.
The purists argue that chablis is the obligatory partner to oysters: bone dry, lean and austere. Something to do with the fact that the Kimmeridge clay of the region is chiefly made up of ancient fossilised oyster shells, apparently, thus matching like with like. I’m not so sure and favour sauvignon blanc over chardonnay as a rule, the grape’s innate zestiness and crispness being the ideal foil for the sea-wateriness of the mollusc.
Top-quality sancerre, pouilly fumé or menetou-salon always works well, as do New World sauvignons such as Anthony Hamilton Russell’s aforementioned Southern Right (named after the whales that flock to nearby Walker Bay in September) or any Marlborough sauvignon from New Zealand. The fleshy sauvignon/semillon blends of Bordeaux are good, too, and no need to pay a fortune. Berrys’ own label Good Ordinary White is a perfect example, produced by the eminently reliable Dourthe.
Riesling is another hits-the-spot oyster-partner of mine, preferably from cool-climate Australia, such as the Clare or Eden Valley, or from that most under-rated and criminally ignored of French wine regions – Alsace. Fatter, fuller, drier and more aromatic than the German rieslings across the Rhine, examples from Trimbach, Hugel, Zind-Humbrecht or Josmeyer are worth looking out for.
But then, perhaps the finest of all oyster-washer-downers isn’t a wine at all, but a beer. The liquid black gold that is Guinness is, as we know, one of God’s finest gifts. Delicious on its own, it seems to acquire another dimension when placed alongside a dozen Irish oysters and a slab of soda bread.
And if in doubt as to whether Guinness or champagne is the champion partner, mix ’em, for now
I come to think of it, Black Velvet is probably the finest match of all.
6 of the Best Wines to accompany Oysters