Sometimes even the very mention of the Osoyoos Oyster Festival is enough to get a raised eyebrow. But if the notion of West Coast oysters on the sandy desert shores of Osoyoos might at first sound incongruous, this little spring shuckfest that could has blossomed into a pretty serious event, with beer and now even whisky in the mix.
The bullishly named Canadian Oyster Wine Pairing Competition (which I was lucky enough to again help judge this year) picks the best wines to pair with oysters, from a range of white varieties and, curiously, this year, one red meritage. (Ummm, It didn’t win.) Even more surprising, not one sparkling wine was entered. And that is odd, especially considering last year’s winner was a well-made sparkler from Noble Ridge. The wines are overwhelmingly from BC, although anyone can enter a grape wine from across Canada, as far as I know.
I have to say it was a great panel, with Kasey Wilson and Anthony Gismondi (Best of Food & Wine, C-ISL 650),, Mireille Sauvé (Wine Umbrella), Audrey Surrao (Raudz, Kelowna) and yours truly. We’ve all known each other for a long time and there was plenty of good natured back and forth, which is not a bad thing at all.
Black Pearl: An Ideal Oyster
Every wine submitted is tasted with an oyster—or at least half an oyster. That part of the judging is crucial. In this case the oyster chosen to match was the delicious Black Pearl from Quadra Island’s Out Landish Shellfish. I wasn’t counting but my guess is that each of the five judges went through at least two or three dozen apiece.
The small, slightly sweet, quite rounded (from being ‘tumbled’) and deliciously fleshy Black Pearl is one of the most consistent I’ve ever tasted. And I’ve tasted a few. Consistency is key for contests like this. It also sports an appealing, not overtly briny quality, that makes it fun to match with some of BC’s leaner, less fruit forward, more acid driven whites.
All the oysters tasted were unadorned, freshly shucked, with no mignonette, lemon, horseradish or other garnish.
What to look for in an oyster wine?
First of all, as always in any food match, the wine shouldn’t overpower the oyster but rather complement it.
Secondly, there should be something in the wine that definitely picks up on some of the oyster’s flavours—perhaps some mineral or stony notes; finally, a clean, fresh mouth feel to finish. with flavours of both wine and oysters lingering on the palate. Overall, in matters of wine and oyster matching, less is more
When all was done (it’s very tough to spit oysters, though some people do…) we had a clutch of clear winners, any one of which would do justice to your next dozen on the half shell.
And the winners are…
Overall. “Best of Show”: Niche Small Batch White 2013, a blend of Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay. It makes sense that this wine (from West Kelowna) popped out, for its nicely balanced fruit and acid profile, plus a shiste-y hint along with a touch of citrus. $18. The Deal.
Chardonnay – Monster Vineyards, 2014 Skinny Dip Chardonnay. Crisp and clean, un-oaked, all stainless steel fermented with apple and citrus wrapped in fresh acidity. ($17.90) – This wine also just won double gold for best unoaked Chardonnay at All Canadian Wine Championships.
Riesling – Monster Vineyards, 2014 Riesling. Some pleasing orchard and stone fruit notes with good texture, juicy acidity and a lingering mineral close. ($17.90)
Sauvignon Blanc – Bench 1775, 2014 Sauvignon Blanc. (Naramata) Varietally correct, zippy Sauv. Blanc sports some nice gooseberry and green apple with tropical hints. An excellent, “classic” oyster match, for sure. ($25.30) – Double Gold for best Sauv. Blanc. at All Canadian Wine Championships.
Pinot Gris – Hester Creek, 2014 Pinot Gris (Golden Mile Bench). Definite citrus and mineral notes with juicy acidity and some stony notes. $17.95)
Pinot Blanc – Skaha Vineyard, 2014 Pinot Blanc. (Krazy Legz, Kaleden) Grown on an east facing stony slope high above the west side of Skaha Lake; apple and pear notes with citrus and definite mineral to close. Another very well balanced, perfect match … ($18.95).
“Wine of Distinction”
Rosé – Bench 1775, 2014 Glow Rosé. juicy, red berry toned and well balanced fruity drop. My guess is that you’d need a mignonette … ($23)
No doubt. this competition will continue to grow and, in time, attract more oyster wines, even, truly, from across Canada.