It’s not as though oysters are new, but it is that how they’re being served is changing. A while ago, I had oysters three times in a week (making it an outstanding week), and two of those times the servers proposed red wine! (The third time we were at a friend’s house and the hosts spoiled us with Champagne and great white wine to go with our mountains of oysters.)
It all started at Les Fines Gueules, where Michael and I ordered a bottle of red wine and I asked for a glass of white wine to go with my sparklingly fresh bivalves. The owner of the bistro obliged, but, he said, “You know, you could have red with those – it can be very good.” And to prove his point, he brought the white and, along with it, a glass of a red from Saumur. He was right – the red was interesting with the oysters; it played more to the oysters’ sweetness than to their saltiness. It didn’t, however, win a place in that part of my heart where I keep great food and wine pairings.
One day later, the story repeated itself at the wonderful Le Comptoir. We ordered a half bottle of Morgon to go with our lunch and I ordered a glass of white wine to go with my starter, oysters. “You know, you could stay with your red,” said the very knowledgeable (and funny) server.
And so, again I stayed with the red and again it was interesting – but again it didn’t win me over. There’s such great pleasure to be had from slurping a cool oyster in its clear, salty liquor, then sipping a cold, clean white wine with a racy, acidic edge. In my book, the red wine/oyster combination just doesn’t deliver even a fraction of that pleasure.
But that didn’t stop me from telling my friends, Kerrin and Olivier, about my experiences when they stopped by for drinks. They were headed to L’Ecailler du Bistrot Paul Bert, the seafood sister of one of my favorite bistros, where Olivier intended to start his meal with a mound of oysters.
The Bistrot Paul Bert has a stunning wine list (there are over 300 bottles, some hard to find elsewhere, all very reasonably marked-up) and a staff that knows its way around it, so when Olivier asked the server if she’d be shocked if he ordered red wine with his oysters, she replied “Not at all, I always drink red with Belons – it’s so good.”
She then proceeded to list about nine wines she thought would be right with oysters, among them a red Arbois, a Poulsard from the Jura, a pinot noir from Alsace and a Pineau d’Aunis, a light red from Saumur – just what I drank at Fines Gueules!
I once had an editor who said that if you hear about something once, it’s just an idea, but hear about it twice, it might be a trend. I wonder what it means when you hear about something three times …
But the changes didn’t stop there.
A few months ago, Le Comptoir welcomed a new sister to the fold, L’Avant-Comptoir de la Mer, a seafood-centric stand-up wine bar. There’s a long list of oysters and each portion is served with chipolatas. Yves Camdeborde, the owner, comes from the Pays Basque and says that serving oysters with spicy sausages is a tradition there. Kind of makes you reconsider red wine with oysters, doesn’t it?