Wine and oysters by moonlight
Oysters and sparkling wine are one of those marriages made in heaven, at least to some of us. I know … there are those who don’t ‘get’ oysters at all: they shudder at the thought of the slithery texture (are they prudes?), the knowledge that the creature is still alive as it slides down their throat, or they wince at the sea-briney taste. I read recently about a surfer who loves both surf and oysters and equates their taste with the experience of being dumped by a wave. Whatever turns you on!High acidity can clash with an oyster’s mineral flavours resulting in a metallic, sometimes bitter taste.
A recent event for The Real Review, dubbed the Oyster-a-thon, was an opportunity to obtain fresh oysters from my favourite source, Steve Feletti, whose company is Moonlight Flat Oysters down at Bateman’s Bay. Here, the Clyde River comes down from the forested hills and the water is unique, says Feletti, in that none of the catchment is inhabited land, including farms. Pristine water should yield the cleanest and purest oysters.
The prize Moonlight Flat oyster – IMHO – is the Clair de Lune Bouton, which we sampled alongside its stablemate, Moonlight Kisses. It sounds twee, perhaps, but the taste is seriously good. Moonlight Flat supplies many top restaurants and it’s a point of pride that no pre-shucking ever happens. You must shuck them yourself, which is part of the fun. (Those who baulk at this should realise that the more oysters you shuck, the better you get at it. Best start now.)
The oysters are delivered by courier and the note attached will tell you the use-by date. Mine arrived six days before they were needed, and still had three days before D-Day, which is fine: just keep them in their packaging in a cool, not-too-dry place. Shuck when ready to eat, never wash them under Warragamba water as this removes too much flavour: the liquid in the shell is part of the experience.
Plenty of lemon juice, if you want it, and good crusty bread (in Haberfield we have two great local bakers, Rafael’s and Papa, but Iggy’s is also accepted) with good butter (preferably Pepe Saya).
That’s all you really need, but on this occasion, we had a couple of sides (rocket salad and Caprese salad), and a main of barbecued swordfish steaks dressed with salmoriglio – a parsley emulsion.
For a contrast to Moonlight Flat, another guest brought more unshucked oysters, from the NSW north coast – Wallis Lake and Hastings River – for a mini degustation.
We tasted an array of white and sparkling wines with the oysters: two Arras vintages in magnum, of which the E.J. Carr Late Disgorged 2003 was the star. This is a great wine, probably best in magnum – which is the preferred format for Champagne. The volume of wine ensures it ages more slowly while the ratio of head-space to volume is optimal.
Also on the table was a Picpoul de Pinet – 2015 Domaine de la Majone – which is a southern French dry white, grown within sight of the Bassin de Thau oyster farms. It’s said to be the ant’s pants with oysters. I liked it, although I believe the right Chablis or Champagne is a better partner.
Arguably the best mate for the oysters was a 2013 Tyrrell’s Stevens Single Vineyard Semillon. It had the right weight, intensity, a subtle degree of aged complexity, dryness and acidity to harmonise with the oysters.
Almost as good was a Muscadet — Château de la Ragotière Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie Vieilles Vignes 2016. Its chalky and sea-briney characters chimed in well with the oyster flavours and, while it was crisp and dry, the acidity was not too high. High acidity can clash with an oyster’s mineral flavours resulting in a metallic, sometimes bitter taste. Indeed, some people dislike Champagne with oysters for a similar reason. We all have different palates; nothing is perfect for everyone.
As always, if the wine and food don’t work together for you, just eat the food and drink the wine separately, and enjoy each on its own.