The winners of this year's Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition include three wines which have never before claimed a prize in the annual pairing showdown, but the line-up is again an all-white bunch.
Organizer Jon Rowley, who for 19 years has convened tasting panels in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle to determine which west coast wine best complements the Kumamoto oyster, says the entry pool always includes a few roses, but none of them have ever made it to the finals. “They're too tannic,” he explains. Even the palest, crispest rose has a tendency to overwhelm an oyster's fragile summation of the sea.
This year's winners' row was dominated by Sauvignon Blancs, but two Pinot Grigios, a Riesling and a Chenin Blanc – the varietal which contest inspiration Ernest Hemingway might be quickest to recognize as an oyster partner – sneaked into the 10-bottle line-up. Judges didn't display any notable geographic biases: About half of each state's finalists advanced to winner's status, with Washington's Chateau St. Michele and Cedargreen Cellars supplying two of the top wines.
Rowley this year invited me to judge the competition, which may count as the finest invitation I've received since becoming a food critic: To have the opportunity to spend a sunny spring afternoon in a windowed room overlooking Shilshole Bay, drinking 20 of the coast's loveliest wines and having my oyster tray replenished the moment I glugged my last Kumamoto, was an experience worth the move to Seattle. What's especially extraordinary is the same experience is available to anyone: Our city's waterfront restaurants make it ridiculously easy to feast on local oysters and drink wines off the winners' list – and you don't even have to take notes.
According to my scoresheet, two of the winners which especially impressed me as oyster mates (judges were instructed to eat an oyster before even nosing the wines) were the Long Meadow Ranch 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, a summery sipper that retails for $20, and the intriguingly complex Kunde 2012 Sauvignon Blanc. The Kunde had the expected notes of melon and tropical fruits, but they were curtained by the sheerest musk, creating an initial cloudiness that dissipated into a clear, lemony brightness. Drinking it reminded me of digging for oysters, prying purity from the muck and uncovering bliss.
Here's the complete winners' list:
Taylor Shellfish Farms is pleased to announce the
2013 “OYSTER AWARD” WINNERS
**Cedargreen Cellars 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (WA)
**Chateau Ste. Michele 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (WA)
**Dry Creek 2012 Dry Chenin Blanc (CA)
**Geyser Peak 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (CA)
**Kunde 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (CA)
Long Meadow Ranch 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (CA)
*Three Pears 2012 Pinot Grigio (CA)
Trefethen 2012 Dry Riesling (CA)
Vinoce 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (CA)
*Willamette Valley 2011 Pinot Grigio (OR)
*Prior Oyster Award
**Multiple Prior Oyster Awards