Salt and pepper. Beer and barbecue.
Add wine and oysters to that.
Maybe you’ve eaten wine and oysters at the same time, but have you paired them together? Jon Mills, vintner at Chatham Vineyards on Church Creek, enjoys pairing the two for a variety of delicious reasons, including the fact that dependent on the oyster and the wine, your culinary experience will differ.
At Chatham’s Winter Wine and Oyster Weekend scheduled for March 18-19, guests enjoy a half dozen Seaside and Bayside Eastern Shore oysters alongside a glass of Chatham wine. Of course, you can pair the oysters with any wine but almost everyone combines the oysters with the iconic Chatham Church Creek Steel Chardonnay, a clean signature expression of the varietal and Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
Pair the Steel Chard with Seaside oysters for one taste and the Bayside oysters for another.
Start, Wehner suggests, by pouring yourself a glass of the Steel Chardonnay.
“I swirl, I smell it, and I admire the green hue that the Steel Chard is known for, which is a very distinct color,” he says. “Then I taste it and I enjoy the angular soft acidity, the nice, soft tropical notes, the pleasantness of the Steel Fermented Chardonnay.
The grapes in the wine actually grow in vineyards just 300 yards from oysters beds full of marine deposits of ancient shell. That in itself is among the defining characteristics of wine and oysters at Chatham that follow the familiar mantra, What grows together goes together.
“We’re one of the few wineries in the world where oysters and vineyards are literally grown together,” says Wehner, mentioning others in France and New Zealand.
Chatham Church Street Cork oysters cultured along the shore of Chatham Vineyards grow a deeper cup and a thicker shell than their peers. The salt is less pronounced with hints of seagrass in the finish and enough brine to savor the velvety essence of the Chesapeake Bay.
“The first thing I get from that oyster is the minerality, the Bayside oyster, and a sweetness that highlights this green melon that pairs perfectly with the Steel Chardonnay,” Wehner says.
Contrast that with pairing the Steel Chardonnay with the Hog Island Shooting Point Salt. The acidity in the wine is more pronounced as the Seaside oyster has a much saltier flavor profile. “The acidity holds up beautifully to the saltiness of the Seaside oyster,” Wehner said. “It’s like steel and oak. It’s a totally different taste and experience.”
The Seaside is a leaner, saltier pairing; the Bayside is a fattier, meatier experience. “We live in an oyster region,” Wehner stresses. “That makes it totally authentic. We’re not shipping in oysters from somewhere.”
For yet another taste, pair oysters with Chatham’s Oak Chardonnay or do what the real shoremen used to do — top a cracker with a plump oyster, add enough hot sauce to your liking and savor the pleasure of fresh oysters. Yum.