Matchmaking At The 2013 Oyster Wine Competition
Every year I look forward to judging the Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition put on by Taylor Shellfish Farms and oyster expert Jon Rowley. The setup is simple: through an extensive selection process, Rowley and a team of preliminary judges comb through 124 California, Oregon, and Washington wines submitted as "oyster-friendly" prospects to create a final lineup of 20. Then judges like myself in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle get to play matchmaker: We try each wine with at least one Kumamoto oyster to crown the winner of the best oyster wine that year.
Anna Roth The judges' setup at the Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition
Rowley calls it an "annual dating service for West Coast wines and oysters," and the list of winners is given to restaurants with oyster programs to influence their white wine selections on offer.
The contest is now in its nineteenth year; I've only been judging it for five, but the process is always the same. Rowley opens by reading a quote from Hemingway's A Moveable Feast that he says holds the key to oyster wines -- and was in fact the quote that got him into oysters in the first place.
"As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans."
Then he explains the rules: We're not judging the wines on their own merits, but on how the wine's flavor goes with oysters. The ideal oyster wine is crisp, clean, and gets out of the way to let the taste of the next oyster to come through. Talking during judging and smelling the wine before eating an oyster are verboten. It's a solemn, concentration-oriented affair; the only sound in the room is the slurping of oysters and the servers pouring wine.
The wines come in batches of five labeled A-T, swaddled in shiny mylar bags to protect their identity. You thoughtfully eat an oyster, chewing carefully, then take a sip of the wine and see how the two jive. Like speed dating, you go with your first impression, take notes on the comment sheet if you like, give the wine a score, and move on. At the end, you rank your top 10 wines and the amalgamated scores from the three cities lead to the winners.
Last week was the San Francisco judging. I went through four dozen oysters, and by the end was feeling a little woozy -- there is absolutely a point when you think 'yes, this is too many oysters' -- but it was still an intensely pleasurable experience.
The winners were just announced this morning -- more information each can be found on the competition's website. Of course, all pairing is subjective (some of my personal favorites did not make it to the final list), but if you're looking for a crisp, dry white wine to pair with oysters, these are pretty much the best of the best.
**Cedargreen Cellars 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (WA)
**Chateau Ste. Michele 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (WA)
**Dry Creek 2012 Dry Chenin Blanc (CA)
**Geyser Peak 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (CA)
**Kunde 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (CA)
Long Meadow Ranch 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (CA)
*Three Pears 2012 Pinot Grigio (CA)
Trefethen 2012 Dry Riesling (CA)
Vinoce 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (CA)
*Willamette Valley 2011 Pinot Grigio (OR)
*Prior Oyster Award
**Multiple Prior Oyster Awards