Shellfish and Wine

I love oysters and other shellfish like scallops, clams, and mussels. While I’ve heard that chablis and champagne are classic pairings with oysters, can you suggest some other wines that will go well with shellfish? 

Answer:

Arrrr yes, the months of “r”s are upon us, and oysters are plump for shucking and slurping. Actually, thanks to aquaculture, much of our favourite bivalves such as oysters, scallops, clams, and mussels are now available virtually year round. As to what wine to drink with shellfish, much depends on how they are prepared and served.

Like with other foods, cooking methods like steaming and poaching - and in this case sometimes au naturel, or sashimi-style - can limit the range of wines that will match well. A gentler touch is definitely required: wines lighter in body, texture, and taste, have good acidity and not tannic will be more successful and not dominate or overwhelm the food. If you like your shellfish deep-fried in batter or wok-fried, fuller whites with good acidity will work well. With recipes where shellfish are seared or baked and are typically richer in flavours, fruit-forward reds with low tannins can be very pleasant surprises. Without going into specific brands, here are some pairings that have worked for me.

For oysters on their half-shells au naturel, with no embellishment, I love a well-chilled, crisp white wine with good acidity as the briny flavour of the liquor of a freshly shucked oyster will bring out the fruit in the wine and mellow its tartness. The result should leave you wanting more of both. Aside from chablis, a muscadet from the Loire region is another classic match, but more often I look for a zesty sauvignon blanc from Chile or New Zealand that’s good value for the price or a dry, aromatic white blend or an unoaked chardonnay, pinot blanc, or pinot grigio from BC. If you like your raw oysters with shallot vinegar (mignonette), a lightly-oaked white meritage from BC, or a glass of fino sherry should do well. With baked oysters like Rockefeller or batter-fried oysters with tartar sauce, try a Spanish cava or a richer chardonnay from Australia or California, and for oyster bienville [baked with mushrooms and parmesan cheese] or oysters wrapped in bacon, a lightly chilled Beaujolais or a non-tannic fruit forward Aussie red can be nice.

With a scallop ceviche (raw scallops lightly dressed with lime juice and served with avocado and tomato salad), I suggest a spritzy, fruity prosecco, a crisp, gruner veltliner from Austria, or perhaps a chilled, fragrant junmai sake like the osake from Artisan Sake Maker, made right here on Granville Island. Of course there are also times when you may have a wine that you want to drink and you are looking for dishes that will be a good compliment. Let’s say you have a rich, buttery chardonnay or a gorgeous, rich viognier on hand. I’d suggest serving your scallops seared with a cream sauce. Red wine lovers may want to try a pinot noir with a seafood pot-au-feu with scallops and prawns, or grilled bacon-wrapped scallops, or clams baked on half-shell with garlic butter, tomatoes, crisp bacon bits, and gruyere cheese.

Lastly, few things are better than a steaming pot of clams or mussels and a crusty loaf to kick start a dinner on a chilly winter’s eve. For these, I recommend drinking the wine with which you cook the mollusks. A Riesling or Gewurztraminer is good with a Thai-yellow-curry-steamed mussels sweetened with coconut milk. An oaky Chardonnay will prove tasty from start to finish with clams steamed in it with smoked bacon, shallots, parsley, and a splash of cream.

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