By Frank Morgan
Virginia is the largest producer of hatchery-based farmed oysters on the East Coast. Local watermen and women cultivated and sold more than 40 million last year.
Established in 2014, the Virginia Oyster Trail is made up of eight distinct regions that showcase the diversity of Virginia waterways. It starts on the Atlantic side of the Eastern Shore, where salinity ranges from 28 to 32 parts per thousand, continues through the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, then north to the York and Rappahannock rivers and up to the Potomac River, where salinity averages just 10 to 17.
More than any food, oysters capture the sense of place from their environment; the salinity of the water, surrounding marsh, types of algae, rain, and tidal flows impact the flavor.
Similar to the French concept of terroir, which is often used to describe a wine’s sense of place, the oyster flavor expression of place is called merroir.
Oysters cultivated in local waterways paired with wines made from grapes grown in surrounding soils may be Virginia’s truest wine and food pairing. Chardonnay and other white wines aged in stainless steel tend to pair best with the briny oysters cultivated on the seaside and in the lower Chesapeake Bay. White wines aged in oak tend to pair better with sweeter oysters like those cultivated in the waters of the upper Bay rivers and around Tangier Island.
Higher acid whites like albarino, petit manseng, and sauvignon blanc pair nicely with oysters cultivated in waters with lower salinity like those from the upper Chesapeake Bay.
Try some of these Virginia wine and oyster pairings.
Chatham Vineyards 2017 Church Creek Steel Chardonnay
Oyster pairing: Bullseye Oysters,Shooting Point Oyster Co.
Located on the Eastern Shore, the vines at Chatham Vineyards grow in sandy loam soil atop the same watershed as the Nassawadox Creek. The citrus, melon, and saline flavors pair perfectly with the salty Bullseyes. Shooting Point Oyster Company has cultivated oysters in Virginia waters for more than a decade. Bullseye Oysters paired with Church Creek Steel Chardonnay is Virginia’s classic wine and brine pairing, proving truth in the cliché, “what grows together goes together.”
Early Mountain Vineyards 2017 Chardonnay
Oyster pairing: Big Island Oysters, Big Island Aquaculture
Textured, balanced, and offering notes of pear, baked apple, and brioche, this chardonnay pairs nicely with clean, creamy and slightly salty Big Island Oysters.
Keswick Vineyards 2017 V2
Oyster pairing: Lynnhaven Oysters, Pleasure House Oysters
A blend of 78 percent verdejo and 22 percent vidal blanc, V2 is crisp and vibrant with citrus, peach, and light herb flavors. Pair this with the plump and slightly salty oysters cultivated in the waters of the Lynnhaven River in Virginia Beach.
The Williamsburg Winery 2017 Wessex Hundred Albarino
Oyster pairing: Rappahannock River Oysters, Rappahannock
Made from 100 percent albarino grown at The Williamsburg Winery at Wessex Hundred estate vineyard, the tangy citrus flavors and zippy lemon acidity of this wine pairs perfectly with the sweet-salty oysters cultivated in the mild waters of the Rappahannock River.