Top 5 Best Wines to Pair with Oysters
The wine country view we see today is one that has changed under the hands of time, with many vineyards hiding a maritime past in their soils. This is said to contribute to the minerality and character of the wines that come from these sites. The vineyards in Chablis are scattered with fossilized oyster shells, an important component of the world-famous Kimmeridgian soils. Oyster fossils have also been found in vineyards in Paso Robles, Tuscany, San Luis Obispo, and elsewhere.
There is also the concept of merroir (like terroir, but for things coming from the sea) following the philosophy of “what grows together, goes together” — this inspires many chefs, somms, and home cooks to choose wines and food that are cultivated in the same environment. This is why wines from coastal regions are often paired with seafood and shellfish. Imagine that people living by the sea would start their day bringing in the fresh catch, and end it preparing a meal and pairing it with wine from the local producers.
Yet for many people, oyster eating (sourcing and preparing, too) remains a bit of a mystery. Wild oyster habitats and populations have become highly threatened in some parts of the world, leaving fans of the half shell to turn to commercially farmed oysters. Thankfully, there are some incredible oyster producers at work today, and the old adage applies here: if you don’t know oysters, know your oyster farmers.
To help out with this, and the age-old question of how to open the damn thing, we’ve got some resources for you below. And of course, we’ve got you covered with wine pairing. Here’s what we're drinking with our Summerstone order from Hama Hama, in season at the time this article was written.
Many would say that there’s no better pairing option for oysters than Chablis, and we tend to agree that this is the dominant starting place. The soils mentioned above, Kimmeridgian, lend a profile that’s perfectly balanced for the briny profile of oysters. If you hold one truth to be evident it’s this: look for a pure, fresh wine with plenty of acid. Bonus points for a tense mineral core and saline notes. This is indeed the profile of Chardonnay from Chablis, and pairing oysters with these wines is one of life’s true culinary indulgences. Some of our favorite producers from Chablis are Moreau-Naudet, Vocoret, and the Lavantureaux family.
Here’s one of the finest examples of merroir-terroir convergence. Muscadet is a French coastal region near the town of Nantes in the Loire Valley where the variety Melon de Bourgogne is the acid-rich star of the viticultural show. These wines have such crisp zest that some people drizzle them on the oyster itself, rather than squeezing a wedge of lemon. Some wines of the region are aged on their lees, which brings a tantalizing level of texture to their profile. This will be indicated on the label as sur lie and is associated with Muscadet Sevre Et Maine, a Loire appellation that takes a name from the two rivers that are an integral part of the growing landscape. For one of our favorites, check out the releases from Domaine de l’Ecu and Domaine de la Pepiere.
Another variety that’s got plenty of acidic chops, Albariño is associated with coastal regions of the Iberian Peninsula in Spain and Portugal. Some of our favorites come from Rias Baixas in Galicia, which is the site of some of the most world-renowned native Albariño vineyards — it’s hard to find better examples than Alberto Nanclares and Zarate to make this point. Aside from zippy acidity, these wines also offer floral aromatics and a lovely elegance that’s perfect for an elevated evening filled with fresh oysters. These wines are stellar with meaty seafood such as grilled octopus, scallops, and lobster, so if you’re making a mixed grill that includes several dishes, Albariño needs to be on the table.
If Champagne and oysters sounds like something out of a bougie Instagram post, we're here to tell you that you’ve missed the point. There has actually been scientific research digging into why these two things go so well together. A group out of Denmark determined that the pairing of Champagne and oysters is so wonderful because the duo “may facilitate umami-synergy.” There's even a hint that older, vintage Champagne with more lees influence may be the ultimate choice when pairing with oysters. We look to Dhondt-Grellet to source some of our most crave-worthy bottles.
This is a wide category, we know, but rosé has so many fresh and food friendly intentions. There’s plenty of coastal rosé — think of all those Mediterranean and Pacific vineyards — and most of today's best bottles have a balance of acidity and fruit that won’t overpower delicate flavors in oysters. Yet the crisp profile of some of our favorite bottles adds zest to the pairing. And you’ll get bonus points for pairing a rosé Champagne such as one of our favorites from Laherte-Frères — talk about taking it up a notch.
We promised more information on how to source and shuck oysters — here’s where we turn when friends are coming over for shellfish night and we want to make sure everything is set. Enjoy!
- How to open oysters | Watch the video
- How to shuck oysters | A step by step graphical guide
- Hama Hama Oysters | A high quality source for oysters shipped straight to your door from the West Coast
- Island Creek Oyster | A reliable source for top notch oysters on the East coast
- Real Oyster Cult | Get your oyster bar delivered straight to your door
- Rowan Jacobsen's book, The Essential Oyster | The definitive guide to all things oysters