Oyster quaffing

What to drink when you're slurping
By LAYNE WITHERELL  |  May 12, 2011

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Oysters are the ocean's own raw bar. You slurp them, and their taste is wonderfully funky, as unique as any on the planet. As easy little food it doesn't get a lot better. But what to drink? You don't need to have wine as the perfect accompaniment. I like Allagash White Ale; its zesty flavor is a perfect foil with oysters. Gin is sublime with them, and vodka works remarkably well too. Perchance someone will come up with an oyster-flavored vodka. If you're looking for wines, here are a few solid suggestions.

DRY SHERRY Not the cooking stuff next to the faux Balsamic vinegar on the shelf, but real Spanish Fino Sherry. Domecq, Sandeman, and Gonzalez Byass are top producers. Jerez, the major sherry town, is surrounded by a chalky soil that grows the Palomino grape to perfection. Pull a bottle straight from the fridge and pour into small wine glasses — the alcohol content is high, and you want to still taste your oysters after a glass or two. Real Fino Sherry is what I affectionately refer to as "the anti-chardonnay." It can never be described as fruity and pineapply, and that is perfectly okay.

ALBARINO If you don't go out much to restaurants you may have missed this wine. The story is as good as the wine, and both are fantastic. German monks regularly came to Northern Spain 500 years ago as pilgrims and brought along a little plant cargo to Galicia, where the locals have drunk and admired it all by themselves — until now. There are longer versions of this story but the official regional name is Rias Baixas; the grape name is albarino. There is a mineral, peach-like quality that goes well with oysters. It goes just as well all by itself. They usually run a reasonable $10 to $15 a bottle.

AMERICAN BUBBLES Get several tall "flute" style glasses and rinse them out before you use them. Bubbly can be pulled straight from the fridge. Bubbles should surge from the bottom of the glass and not cling to the sides. Tiny explosive bubbles are the best to contain flavors. There are a variety of styles in sweetness for bubbles. You want brut or blanc de blancs. These are the driest and therefore tastiest with oysters. Domaine Ste. Michelle from Washington is always tasty and reliable with those ever-present tiny bubbles. At $12 a bottle it is a bargain. Scharffenberger is worth spelling correctly and seeking out. It has a citrus character that works with the oyster. It is from Mendocino County and runs around $19. Gloria Ferrer Brut Sonoma County will also do the trick. This is the American-outpost bubbly from one of Spain's great producers of sparklers, and costs $20.

FRENCH CHAMPAGNE This is the ultimate oyster wine treat. There are terrific values for the bottle out there right now. Charles Heidsieck, always a reliable source for Champagne, comes in at around $45 to $55 for a bottle of brut. That limestone-chalky acidity — just like an oyster bed — is unbelievable with a dozen of your favorites. Oysters showcase the flavors of where they are grown, and so do Champagne grapes.

It is funny that bubbly rises and falls with our expectations of stuff like oil prices, housing prices, and the economy in general. Its true strength is that it always goes well with oysters.

Layne Witherell can be reached at lvwitherell@gmail.com.

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