Friday, June 4, 2010

Classic Pairings 201: Oysters and Bubbles

I found myself wistfully gazing back on yesteryear earlier today (which, oddly, wouldn't be referred to as "yesterday"...hmmm...yestertoday?). And as yesteryear manifested itself yestertoday in my mind, I reminisced on the good ol' days, otherwise known as "yesteryear", or at least that's what they were called yestertoday. Things may have changed by now...

Ah, I was so young and foolish back then, full of hope and impossible dreams...

...childhood? No, I'm talking about January. The false hope of New Year's resolutions had me thinking I would stick to a routine; a schedule of regularly-themed posts, offering you- the reader- a consistent and predictable humor/education, nay, edu-tainment experience. For example, one such pipe dream included classic pairings every Wednesday. Remember these delights?

Classic Pairings 103: Syrah-lence of the Lamb

All completed in January. JAN-YOO-AIR-EEE. It's June. Aren't there more than 3 pairings out there? Why have I let you down??

My best excuse is that cooking for a pregnant wife not only limits the food you can prepare, but severely cripples the efforts by the household to drink a bottle of wine, thus damaging the odds of opening a bottle in the first place, as said bottle is now more vulnerable to waste and spoilage. It's a terrible excuse, I know, but I've got to plead some sort of pathetic case here.

Now you- the attractive and astute readership- have no time for my alibis, and frankly, you're probably tired of me talking about babies. So, with that directive in mind, I concocted perhaps my favorite "classic" pairing on earth.

Oysters and bubbly (in this case, Champagne) might be the finest set of bedfellows since, well, since the last time someone used the word "bedfellows" in the modern written word. Granted, Champagne and much sparkling wine is notorious for being a fast-friend with food (due to high acid, freshness, and the palate-cleansing virtue of fizz). However, for some reason, I can't think about anything else to even compare with some oysters. Yeah, that includes beer. I don't believe I'm even saying this. But dammit, with all due respect to beer, IT'S THE TRUTH. I'd bet my crappy plating abilities on it.

In the case of this particular post, the oyster employed was Long Island's famed Blue Point. While much of my experience (being from Georgia) is with either Apalachicola Oysters or Gulf Oysters, I went with the Blue Points because, well, that's all that they had. And I suspect that I won't be getting any Gulf Oysters anytime soon. I bite my thumb at you, BP.

Anyway, I decided to toss these beauties on the grill for a few minutes, rather than eat them raw. The latter is usually the most common form of consumption (which I enjoy), but something about heating these up just until the briny juices within them bubble and the shells pop open, allowing some of the smoke from the fire to permeate the meat...[Homer drooling noises]. And yes, it is that simple. Put the oysters on the grill. When the shells open (after 4-8 minutes), dinner is served. If they don't open, don't eat 'em. They skip across ponds quite nicely in that case.

For the bubbles, I ended up with a half bottle (375 ml) of Laurent-Perrier NV Brut L-P Champagne. The "NV" stands for "non vintage", and what that means is that the final product in my bottle is a combination of wine from possibly several different years. This is done so that the producer can create a consistent flavor profile for the wine year-after-year (known in Champagne as the "house style"). Since the inconsistent weather patterns vary season-to-season, sometimes the blending needs to be tweaked to maintain the house style. Master blenders- aka "folks much more talented than me"- undertake the painstaking task of tasting samples from many different barrels of wine from the respective year, as well as previous years. Furthermore, they taste Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays and Pinot Meuniers (the three allowable grapes in the Champagne AOC). This process is known as assemblage, and I bet I would suck at it.

Laurent-Perrier's "house style" is lighter than many other Champagnes, much of that perhaps due to the fact that they use mostly Chardonnay. I chose the lighter-styled sparkler because I think it worked great with the delicate brininess of the oysters. And the blue-blooded blue point oysters seemed to be more delicate and briny than the blue-collared gulf oysters I usually find fried in my po boy. The mineral elements in the wine- likely attributed to the chalky soils of Champagne- offered a perfect complement to the salinity of the juice, the almost-metallic flavors within the oyster meat, and the likewise minerality lent to the oyster and the juice by the shell. Furthermore, the citrusy components and the acidity of this light-bodied blubbly worked like a spritz of lemon...never a bad move on an oyster, or any seafood for that matter.

So, the richness, the acid, the minerality, the brininess...the luxurious combination of delicate seafood and delicate mousse of fizzy Champagne (or California sparkling, or Spanish Cava); all these elements working in harmony confirm why this is such a classic pairing. If you haven't tried it before, I suggest you do so this weekend. Especially if you plan on eating outside in the sultry summer (well, almost summer) evening. There just isn't much better.

And if you're looking for another food-and-wine marriage, join me here next year when I discuss classic pairings 202!
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