On a cold, sunny January morning, I arrive at Oyster Membership, a relaxed restaurant in Paris’ Marais neighborhood, only a brief stroll from the Seine. Town continues to be waking up and contained in the restaurant, the one sounds are the purr and rattle of the espresso machine. Daylight streams in by means of the massive, street-facing home windows and spills over the picket bar. The decor is rustic-nautical, with reclaimed picket tables and porthole mirrors adorning the partitions. Mollusks from Brittany and Normandy are the home specialty.
It’s a shade earlier than 10 within the morning when Adèle Grunberger and Tanguy Thomassin, the younger proprietors, supply me a huître. Thomassin speedily shucks then fingers me a single shivering oyster. “You must eat the adductor muscle,” he says. “Lots of people go away that behind.” I do as advised and my mouth salivates immediately, flooded with the style of the ocean. If solely it weren’t too early for a sip of chilly wine to go together with. Because it occurs, that’s what we’re there to speak about: one of the best wines to pair with uncooked, briny oysters.
Based on an age-old rule of thumb, oyster season runs from September by means of April, additionally known as the “R months.” Abstaining from oysters throughout the summer season months is partly a copy concern; the annual spawning interval renders oysters “laiteuse,” or stuffed with a milky liquid, giving them a creamier mouth really feel that most individuals—round 80 p.c of shoppers, based on some counts—don’t like. (Although I ought to word, some, together with my mother-in-law, relish their oysters laiteuse.) It was additionally a refrigeration concern. Based on Thomassin, coastal areas apart, oysters needed to be transported lengthy distances by horse-and-carriage, sans cooler. You may think about why it grew to become commonplace to keep away from such a positive delicacy throughout the canine days of summer season.
As of late, you could find good oysters year-round. “The height copy interval normally lasts lower than a month,” says Thomassin, and to regulate for that window of time, Oyster Membership sources from a number of producers to keep away from serving laiteuse varieties.
When contemplating the oyster, sure taste profiles come to thoughts: briny, creamy, metallic. On their very own, the species could or is probably not an aphrodisiac, however washed down with the proper wine, it’s exhausting to argue with the truth that they make you are feeling a sure approach. The traditional French pairing, based on Grunberger and Thomassin, is Muscadet from the Loire Valley. Produced from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, Muscadet has excessive acidity, a contact of salinity—which performs significantly nicely off the oyster’s brininess—and attribute mineral notes. “Our purchasers love minerality with oysters,” Grunberger tells me.
Wines made with the chenin blanc grape, which additionally has excessive acidity, are by no means a nasty concept. One in every of Grunberger and Thomassin’s favorites embody a Savennières from Domaine des Forges. The dry white from the Loire River’s north financial institution is cultivated on schist soils coated with aeolian sands, which impart a deep, oyster-friendly minerality. Thomassin fingers me a bottle of an natural chenin blanc from a family-run winery in Chinon, Domaine de la Marinière; once I style it later, it’s tannic and dynamic, with vivid acidity that calls out for shellfish.
One other attribute Thomassin suggests shoppers take into account is alcohol degree. “We attempt to serve gentle wines as a result of the oyster is so refined,” he says. “An excessive amount of alcohol will dominate the flavour and go away no room for the oyster.”
Oyster Membership additionally recommends dry Champagne or any comparable glowing wines. Cremant from the Jura or Loire Valley, for instance, enhances oysters’ salty-sweet “noisette” taste. Once I counsel that the more and more stylish pét-nat would possibly maintain its personal, each Grunberger and Thomassin agree, particularly in the event you’re after a wine with a gentler effervescence, as pure fermentation tends to supply softer bubbles. Grunberger additional means that an edgy orange wine—with pithy citrus notes and a tinge of bitterness—may present an attention-grabbing counterbalance to the oyster’s brininess. One in every of her favorites is Orange Is The New White, a skin-contact pét-nat from André Kleinknecht in Alsace.
Winemakers, after all, have their very own methods for pairing with oysters. Based on Marianne Fabre-Lanvin, co-founder of Souleil, a brand new natural wine firm from southern France, terroir may also be your information. Like long-lost siblings, wine and oysters produced in the identical area have an simple correspondence.
“For our white wine, we use a grape known as piquepoul,” Fabre-Lanvin tells me. “It’s indigenous to a particular space within the South of France and has a uncommon salinity as a result of the soil will get lots of salted water from a close-by lagoon and the Mediterranean. Loved collectively, each the wine and oysters are particularly refreshing.”
That mentioned, whereas terroir is usually a information, Fabre-Lanvin doesn’t really feel it must be a limitation. “I had oysters with a buddy in New York the opposite night time,” she says. “We paired Lengthy Island oysters with Souleil’s white and it was good.”
An oyster aficionado raised within the South of France, you would possibly say Fabre-Lanvin and her enterprise companion, Thomas Delaude, developed their white wine with a plate of uncooked oysters in thoughts—I can attest, the mix makes for a elegant apéro. In actual fact, the pair are so enthusiastic about aquatic creatures that Souleil instantly helps nonprofits that shield them. Stated Marianne, “Thomas and I grew up subsequent to the Mediterranean, so we launched our firm to assist shine a lightweight on nonprofits that target ocean preservation. Our staff participates of their clean-up occasions, and we rally our associates to make a higher impression.”
Made largely with grenache, Souleil’s rosé additionally makes a positive match for oysters. “It’s an indulgent pairing, particularly in hotter months,” Fabre-Lanvin explains. “They’re each lush and gourmand.” Dry rosé usually goes nicely with oysters, she provides, as long as it’s well-chilled, in order that the fruit notes don’t overpower the seafood. “But it surely shouldn’t be too chilly both,” she warns. 50 to 55 levels Fahrenheit is an effective goal.
Impressed by these conversations, I later resolve to journey to Cancale, a small city in Brittany recognized for its oyster market. Oyster Membership sources a few of their oysters right here, as did Louis XIV—rumor has it he had the city’s recent mollusks delivered to Versailles each day. The market is perched alongside the Mont Saint-Michel bay, overlooking rows of oyster beds. Seagulls swoop for emptied shells discarded like shrapnel beside the plankton-filled water.
Along with my husband, Guillaume, and my daughter, Mimi, we peruse the handful of blue-and-white-striped stalls, every providing a number of oysters for as little as 5 euros a dozen. We select a vendor—a girl carrying the native uniform of puffer jacket and rubber wellies—then idle whereas she shucks as effortlessly as one would possibly butter a toasted bagel. Close by, a number of individuals stand in line by a wine truck promoting chilly bottles of Muscadet and Sancerre, the din of the market sometimes punctuated by the pop of one other bottle being uncorked.
With our plate of oysters, adorned by a single halved lemon, we sit on the stone steps between the market and the bay. I go Guillaume the chilly cremant stashed in my tote bag. He twists in a corkscrew, offers it some muscle, and pop, our drinks are prepared. Mimi stomps on piles of empty shells, proof of many a glad buyer, as Guillaume and I toss again the briny, faintly nutty oysters—adductor muscle and all—and sip the intense and mineral glowing wine. It’s as positive a pairing as nature may have created. We polish off a dozen in minutes, together with our wine, and a hazy contentment settles over me.