After all the rich eating of the last few days there’s nothing better than a plateful of clean-flavoured, briney oysters. But what’s the best wine - or beer - to pair with them?
Unusually there’s more than one outstanding match plus some good alternatives you may not have thought of. Which one you choose will obviously depend on which drink you like best - there’s no point in serving Guinness if you hate the stuff - and how the oysters are served. Cooked oysters are generally rather more forgiving than raw ones.
It also makes quite a difference how you season them. Personally I’m in favour of no seasoning at all, letting the wine do the job of a squeeze of lemon but conversely adding lemon can make richer chardonnays and champagnes work better if those are the wines you’d rather drink.
There are actually fossilised oyster shells in the soil of the Chablis region so it’s maybe not too fanciful to say that’s why it hits just exactly the right note. I’d pick a recent vintage though rather than a mature one, a premier cru if you’re treating yourself to natives.
Here it’s the bubbles that provide the magic, the perfect textural contrast to the smooth velvety texture of the oysters. Ultra dry champagnes like Laurent Perrier Ultra Brut and Drappier Brut Nature that don't have any dosage (sugar and wine solution) added to them before bottling work best though lighter styles of regular non-vintage Champagne such as Taittinger will do a perfectly good job. Sparkling wine is also the best match by far for deep-fried oysters.
Muscadet and other crisp, dry whites
The cut price option, clean-as-a-whistle Muscadet acts just like a squeeze of lemon - so don’t add lemon too. The best wines come from the Sèvre-et-Maine region and are labelled ‘sur lie’ (the wine is aged on the lees, the residue of the yeast used to ferment the wine which gives it more flavour). Also in this category of bone-dry whites comes Picpoul de Pinet from the south of France, Pinot Grigio from Italy and Albariño from Galicia in Northern Spain.
This is what they would drink round Bordeaux, also an oyster-producing area and it works elsewhere too, particularly when oysters are served, as they often are Down Under, with Asian flavours. Again keep the wine young and unoaked. The added zestiness of Sauvignon also helps with strong seasonings like shallot and red wine vinegar or Tabasco.
Not great, in my view, with raw oysters but very nice with cooked ones, particularly in a creamy sauce or chowder. Choose a lightly oaked, creamy style such as you find in Burgundy, Limoux in southern France or cool climate regions of the New World.
Guinness and other stouts
It’s mainly a colour and texture thing. Black on white (or rather, cream). Smooth layered on smooth. And the saltiness of the oysters counteracts the bitterness of the beer. If you like stout this match is sublime.
This unusual lager made in Alsace from champagne yeasts works much the same way as Champagne. A good bet for those who prefer to drink beer but don’t like stout.
Iced sparkling water (it doesn’t have to be Perrier) with a slice of lemon. Dry, refreshing and doesn’t detract from the delicate flavour of the oysters
WARNING - What not to drink
Don’t drink spirits with oysters. It makes them indigestible and can make you feel quite ill.
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