The never-ending (let's hope) search for the perfect oyster wine
Sometimes what you want from a wine is not greatness, but just a perfect adequacy. There's no greater proof of that than at the annual Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition, the Los Angeles leg of which was held last week at the newly remodeled Water Grill restaurant downtown (similar tastings were held in San Francisco and Seattle).
I've written about this event before -- many times. In fact, it's in its 18th year, and I believe I've been around for most of them. I may have thrown around the word "scam" in association with it from time to time. Perhaps that has been unfair. But I'll let you decide. Certainly, I meant it in only the most loving way.
Judging this event (a highlight of my spring every year), involves sitting down in front of a couple of dozen crisp dry white wines and a platter full of freshly shucked, sparkling fresh Kumamoto oysters. And when that platter runs out (they seem to vanish with astonishing rapidity), you don't even need to raise your hand before the ever-alert servers bring over another one.
Back in my youthful, more boastful days, my record was seven dozen. Like a true champion, I've matured to the point that I no longer keep track of my victories. The important thing is the game itself, right?
The tasting never fails to remind that sometimes what you want is not the greatest wine in the world, but the right wine for the job. And when it comes to oysters, that wine is not some huge, oaky important Chardonnay, but something lean and crisp, like a Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Gris (every year, there seems to be more of these, and welcome they are). A great oyster wine meets the flavor of the oyster, but doesn't overpower it. Most important, it leaves you wanting more. It should not go unnoticed that these wines typically cost less than $20 a bottle and often are available for much less (the perennial favorite Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc usually costs less than $10).
The Top 10 wines this year include that Sauvignon Blanc, but also one from Cedergreen Cellars in Washington. There are also six Pinot Gris -- from Brandborg and Van Duzer in Oregon, Hogue Cellars in Washington (labeled Pinot Grigio), Kenwood in California, Millbrandt and Sockeye in Washington. Rounding out the list are the Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc from California and the Foris Vineyard Winery Pinot Blanc from Oregon.
Cedergreen, DryCreek, Foris, Hogue, Kenwood and Van Duzer are all repeat past winners.
As for my favorites? This was a tough year, since the overall quality of the wines was really high. I really liked the Willowcrest Pinot Gris from Washington, as well as the Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc, Van Duzer, Cedergreen and Sockeye.
But just to be sure, I may have to head down to the oyster bar one more time.
-- Russ Parsons
Photo: Russ Parsons / Los Angeles Times.