The Osoyoos ‘Oyster’ Festival? Seriously? I must admit, I was just a tad surprised when I first heard of the idea. After all, burgeoning bivalves is maybe not the first thing that come to mind when you consider the sandy (rock free), shores of the South Okanagan’s popular beach-side resort.
However, the Osoyoos Oyster Festival is very definitely a serious affair. It highlights the wines of Oliver-Osoyoos (and from elsewhere), paired with West Coast sustainable oysters—at every twist and turn of this four day shuck-a-thon!
We endured a day’s furious judging in search of The Great Canadian Oyster Wine. Even though I haven’t gone through the ‘decoder’ in depth, I know there weren’t a whole lot of wines from outside BC, although that could change as this event gathers momentum. I was pleased to see that the organisers inviting entries from ‘away’. At the end of the day, several of the contenders (if not necessarily all of the fruit) came from ‘up north’, and at least one from Niagara. Chalk up more fodder for the sub-appellation debate. It would be good if we could look at a label and get the whole story in a few seconds …
Nailing down a winner is easier said than done, when you consider that each of 119 entries had to be tasted (blind, by two panels) with a bite of oyster. In this case it was a well chosen, not too strongly flavoured but still sufficiently briny, tray-grown Marina’s Top Drawer, freshly plucked from the pristine, cold waters of Quadra Island. And skilfully shucked by Codfathers.
The oysters were all tasted completely unadorned, “nude”, that is devoid of any mignonette or other dressings
For the most part, I was struck by the range of wines (with quite a few 2013s) that did work well, including a good array of sparkling, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, clever white blends, and Riesling. Oh, did I say, Riesling? Well, for me in the absence of bubble, it does tend to work the best, especially when there are some decent suggestions of slate or mineral present.
While some BC Pinot Gris, when handled with a degree of restraint, proves a good partner for oysters, the more fruit-driven offerings can be challenging—occasionally calling for a ‘Del Monte’ style of salsa to make them work.
Here are the goods …
Overall winner of the Best Oyster Wine at Osoyoos Oyster Festival
Noble Ridge “The One” Sparkling Pinot Noir / Chardonnay (Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Falls)
This ‘methode traditionelle’ popped out for its respectful nod to Champagne, with restrained oak, balanced citrus and hints of red berry with a streak of minerality. The wine played nicely off the oyster, with the flavours, texture and mouthfeel all in harmony. Interestingly, it was a runner up last year.
Finalists by varietal / style:
(These wines comprised the final flight, from which the winning wine was scored.)
Sparkling – Noble Ridge “The One”
Gray Monk Pinot Blanc 2012 (Okanagan Valley, North and South)
Mount Boucherie Unoaked Chardonnay 2012 (Okanagan Valley, Similkameen)
Poplar Grove Chardonnay 2012 (Okanagan Valley, Naramata?)
Bench 1775 Pinot Gris 2013 (Okanagan Valley)
Konzelmann Riesling 2012 (Niagara)
La Frenz Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (Okanagan Valley, Naramata)
Wild Card –
Black Hills Cellarhand Free Run White 2012 (Okanagan Valley, Black Sage)
Runners up by varietal / style:
(These wines all scored second in the elimination rounds)
Sparkling – Sperling Vineyards Brut 2009
Wild Goose Pinot Blanc 2013
Bench 1775 Chardonnay 2013
Gray Monk Unoaked Chardonnay 2012
Gray Monk Pinot Gris 2013
Monster Vineyards Riesling 2012
Bench 1775 Sauvignon Blanc 2013
Wild card – Moon Curser Viognier 2012