April 26, 2007
Jon Rowley's Dating Service

Anytime lunch is in San Francisco and includes three dozen raw oysters - per person! - it's got to be a good day, right? And so it was yesterday, even if the lunch was "work." After all, the 13 guests also were expected to taste and rank 20 wines during the session.

Yes, Jon Rowley once again had commenced his annual search to find the best wines to go with oysters. He's a Seattle resident who makes his living promoting specialty foods, especially oysters, about which he's been extraordinarily fond since reading a lyrical Ernest Hemingway passage about eating raw oysters and drinking cold white wine.

"I love doing this," said Rowley at the outset yesterday, after his ritualistic reading of Hemingway's comments, and he doesn't even get to taste the oysters or the wines. This is the 13th year for his Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition, which is much more involved than most wine judgings. It puts wine in a context, for one, in that it is paired with a food. First, he invites winemakers to submit wines they feel will best flatter oysters. All wines must be from the West Coast. A record 185 were entered this year, 132 of them from California.

Rowley kicks off the competition with a panel of food and wine experts in Seattle. Through a series of blind tastings, they narrow the field to 20 finalists. Then, on three successive days other panels in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle blind taste the 20 wines with as many Kumamoto oysters as they want. Kumamotos are chosen because they are small and easier to slurp from their shells. Rowley tabulates the scores and comes up with 10 winners. That process won't be finished until Friday.

At the end of each of the three sessions, however, judges are told the identity of the wines so they can know immediately which ones they individually thought went best with the oysters. My top three were the wonderfully fruity, spicy and refreshing Geyser Peak Winery 2006 California Sauvignon Blanc ($13), which when paired with the three or four oysters I tasted with it added up to a marriage in which each half respected the other while totaling a sum greater than either; the perfumey and persistent King Estate Winery 2005 Oregon Signature Pinot Gris ($16), a combination in which each half amplified the sweetness and minerality of the other; and the floral and smoky Dry Creek Vineyard 2005 Sonoma County Fume Blanc ($14.50), an unusually complex and meaty entry that nonetheless had the structure and lift to dance gracefully with oysters. If you have oysters on a forthcoming menu, I don't think you will go wrong by selecting one of these wines to accompany them.

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