Shell Game

For 11 years now, dozens of oyster lovers have masticated uncounted thousands of succulent Kumamoto oysters provided gratis by Taylor Shellfish Farms of Shelton, in pursuit of an elusive ideal pairing of crisp vinous complement to the sharp, salty oyster essence. This year's winners, selected after a final taste-off, were announced April 29 by Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition founder-director Jon Rowley. Eight of the 11 equally ranked winners had placed on the list in past seasons; three, all California-grown, had appeared at least twice before: dry chenin blanc from Dry Creek Vineyard and sauvignon blancs from Buena Vista and Geyser Peak. I mention the latters' names because the remainder of this column is devoted to an argument that it may be time for the PCOWC to pack it in. It's easier for me to suggest this than it would be for many oyster-loving peers because I don't much like raw oysters, with or without wine (the result of an unfortunate beach-campout encounter with a drunken uncle). But many of the three dozen or so writers, retailers, and restaurateurs who took part in the annual tasting would, if pressed, admit that the prospect of devouring unlimited oysters motivated them more than the subsequent sips of wine submitted for consideration this time out. The reason is hardly a secret. The West Coast of North America is a great place to grow oysters, but it is not by any stretch of the imagination a very good place to produce wines to go with them— crisp, acidic, even metallic wines that can stand up to the metallic tang of a good raw oyster. West Coast white wines are more notable for fruit than spine, and just a little fruit is sufficient to clash badly, even nauseatingly, with what makes oysters worth eating in the first place. So every PCOWC is inevitably an uphill effort to find not the best wines but the least unsatisfactory wines to serve the purpose. If we only had access to such wines, I could see the judges' exertions as worth the effort. But the cold fact is that almost any wine selected at random out of the bin labeled "Loire" at your local stop-and-shop will serve an oyster lover better than all but the best wines from the Northern Hemisphere, and often at a far more agreeable price. I bow to no one in my admiration of PCOWC organizer Rowley for his efforts on behalf of Northwest foods and food producers. We owe to him, among other things, the Copper River salmon bonanza and Metropolitan Market's annual Peach-o-Rama. It was Rowley's confidence that terroir is destiny that helped us realize that Northwest pinot noir is perhaps the best accompaniment for Northwest wild salmon. But I can't help feeling that with oysters and wine, his passion for the local has led him astray. You want wine to go with your oysters? One word is all you need to remember: muscadet.

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