Judging top wines with oysters

#osyterriot2018 in Washington D.C.

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com (top photo by Maria Denton) 

6 November 2018

How do you sample an oyster?

You can’t really chew and spit, as you do with wine.

That was but one question I pondered, when asked to participate last night as a judge for #osyterriot2018. It was the 24th edition in Washington D.C. of judging which wine goes best with oysters.

Thanks to Maria Denton, who recently has taken on wine responsibilities for the top two grossing independent restaurants in the nation’s capital : the legendary (established in 1856) Old Ebbitt Grill and the more recent The Hamilton (once the sight of the long defunct Garfinckel’s department store).

I joined several other judges downstairs at the expansive Old Ebbit Grill, where we sat before a plate full of Kusshi oysters (conveniently small to taste) and 20 white wines.

According to this “oysterology” based website, Kusshi Oysters have small and smooth “gemlike” shells as result of constant tumbling. They are petite versions of Stellar Bay Oysters farmed in British Columbia, and have a decent salt content with a meaty chew and a bright and intense “cucumber” finish. Indeed, I got quite a bit of meatiness from the oysters and just enough iodine to enjoy them.

But the point was to see which of the whites paired best with them.

As you can see in the above video, tasting director Michael Franzen, of Wine Review Online, explained the judging ground rules in taking time to pick out the 10 best wines as they paired with oysters, in a ranking order.

Indeed, it was fascinating to taste each wine, and then taste it again after having had an oyster.

Food obviously changes a wine’s profile and in some cases a seemingly boring white was better with the oyster (and vice-versa).

Our tasting sheet featured the 20 wines, only by number.

Michael asked us to fill in comments for each one, then score them – and, finally – rank them from 1 (most appealing) to 20 (least appealing). I got a lot of varietal Sauvignon Blancs and realized that ranking them obviously meant what customers would like most. While I may not have really loved some of the more varietal tasting wines, customers who purchase, say, a New World Sauvignon Blanc with obvious varietal characteristics, would like such a wine.

My favorite turned out to be a bubbly.

About #oysterriot 

The competition has expanded in scope and prominence every year since its inception, drawing attention from the press and trade in many countries. Entries have increased steadily; last year, 279 wines were entered.

Preliminary tasting rounds narrowed the field to fifty this year out of nearly 200 wines.

Our panel identified gold medal winners and the “2018 Grand Champion” last night among the top 20 finalists.

Out of the 20, the top ten wines will be poured at the Ebbitt’s annual “Oyster Riot” this year on 16 and 17 November.

The top three wines (Grand Champion, First Runner-Up and Second Runner-Up) will be featured by the glass at the Old Ebbitt Grill on a rotating basis.

And the “Grand Champion” will be featured on the wine list of the four Clyde’s Restaurant Group locations with raw bars.

The after party with Maria Denton #oysterriot2018

I cannot reveal the wines or the winners, but they will be unveiled soon, so do stay tuned to social media and the hashtag #oysterriot2018 ? …

Thanks again to Maria Denton for the invite to be a part of the final judging panel.


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