What You Must Know Before Pairing Wine with Oysters

Paul Greenberg
6 min readDec 28, 2020

This New Year’s Eve don’t ruin your oysters with the wrong wine

Photo credit: Paul Greenberg

A few years ago, when our son was still very small and difficult, my partner and I managed to secure a rare date night which began, as these things do, with a terrible argument. I have no recollection of the argument’s nature, only that by the time we reached the doorway of Marlow & Sons there was serious contemplation of calling the babysitter and informing her we were on our way home.

But then came the wine and the oysters.

Six excellent North Forks and a cold, crisp white that suited it exactly perfectly. Knot by knot the argument came untied. Another six oysters were ordered, two more glasses of that same wine came and the fight was past tense. Ever since, I have regarded the pairing of oysters and wine as mandatory to the maintenance of my relationship and a necessary prelude to any date.

The only problem is, I never did write down the name of the wine they served that night and I have been grasping sometimes successfully, sometimes not, for a repeat experience. It was for this reason that I finally consulted with Jon Rowley, a man who was known throughout the United States as a discoverer of specific good tastes and who had a particular affinity for oysters and their wine mates. Jon sadly passed away in 2017 but whenever I mention his name online the internet lights up with warm reminiscences from all corners of the food world. As the food writer Ruth Reichlput to me in a recent tweet “Jon was one of my favorite people in earth and when it came to seafood he was never wrong.”

Twenty-odd years ago, encouraged by Reichl and others, Rowley started the Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition to find the best West Coast wines to go with oysters. Muscadet and Chablis, French wines, were traditionally served with oysters on the half shell — but Rowley was convinced there had to be American “oyster wines.”

But how to find them?

He hit on the idea of a competition in which wines were judged by how they paired with oysters. Each year 120 to 220 wines are entered. Wines are tasted blind with at least one oyster by five preliminary judges, a weeklong process.

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Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World paulgreenberg.org