As a native Houstonian, I have eaten a lot of Gulf Coast seafood over the years without putting too much thought into it (aside from when I was watching oil flooding the Gulf, courtesy of BP). When I was young, my family spent time in Galveston every summer fishing and crabbing and eating whatever was caught. As an adult I sent my kids to Seacamp in Galveston where they went out on an oyster trawler at 10 years old to haul in oysters, learn to shuck them and then have oyster eating contests on board; this was construed as fun not as child labor, by the way.
The first time I had oysters from elsewhere, I was surprised at how small, flat and briny they were by comparison but again I had not really thought about why they were different other than the water was colder than it was here. I also hadn't really considered location mattering within the Gulf. Well, all that has changed now after attending the "Merroir Experience" yesterday at the Oceanaire restaurant in the Galleria. Texas food guru, Robb Walsh*, author of Sex, Death and Oysters, led a wine and oyster pairing seminar in conjuction with Giovanni Bonmartini-Fini of Barone-Fini Wines, Marco DiGiulio-winemaker for Girard and Matthew Mitchell- winemaker of The Crossings.
The tasting started with oysters from Trinity Bay's Resignation Reef, one of the named oyster appellations of Galveston Bay. The Trinity River feeds this northeast corner of the bay which brings fresh water and nutrients to the oysters causing them to become fat, soft, sweet and creamy. The oysters from this reef were paired with 2010 Girard Sauvignon Blanc from Napa and 2010 Barone Fini Valdadige Pinot Grigio. Both of these wines worked well with the oysters, the Sauvignon Blanc's light tropical flavors complemented the oyster's natural sweetness while the Pinot Grigio's minerality was refreshing.
Next up were Point aux Pins oysters from Grand Bay, Alabama, paired with 2011 The Crossings Sauvignon Blanc from Awatere Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand, and 2009 Girard Russian River Valley Chardonnay. I found these oysters to be a little on the gritty side. I found this Sauv Blanc to be a little overwhelming with the oysters though I am sure it may be enjoyable alone. I was somewhat surprised that I enjoyed the buttery, oaked Chardonnay as much as I did with the raw oyster, the lemon-butter flavors complemented my oyster while the light tannins from the wood aging worked with the creamy/fattiness of it.
The final round were the Pepper Grove oysters from one of the oldest and best reefs in Galveston's East Bay. There is less freshwater here which makes these some of Texas' briniest and they were definitely my favorite. The wines for this pairing were the 2009 Barone Fini Alto Adige Pinot Grigio and 2009 The Crossings Unoaked Chardonnay. I expected this Chardonnay to work really well but was surprised by the funkiness in the aromatics which was too distracting to enjoy. This Pinot Grigio was partially oak-aged but was still refreshing with a nice light fennel quality.
What did I learn? Merroir is as important to oyster flavor and quality as Terroir is to wine.
There are many palatable pairings for freshly shucked raw oysters beyond the classic Champagne and Muscadet, or of course the Texas favorite, a bucket full of ice cold bottled beer.
The fun is in the search not only for the perfect wine but also for the perfect oyster. It is nice to know that the future is looking good for Texas Wild Oysters.
* Texas Eats a new book by Robb Walsh, is an encyclopedia of Texas Cuisine and is on sale now.