April 23, 2008
Aw, Shucks, It's All in a Day's Work

I'll soon shove off for San Francisco and the 14th annual Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition, one of the more enlightening and entertaining judgings of the year. And filling. That's because the wines will be judged in a natural context, which is with food, a logistical impossibility for most competitions.

For this judging, however, coordinator Jon Rowley limits the wines to one style - cold, dry, crisp and, by my experience, white - and one kind of food, Kumamoto oysters. You eat an oyster, then taste a wine, looking for what Rowley calls the "bliss factor" - a clean finish and a crisp taste that doesn't get in the way of the flavor of the next oyster.

A record 200 wines were entered in this year's competition, but we'll be tasting just the 20 finalists. Earlier, five judges at Rowley's home base in Seattle spent a week tasting all 200 candidates with oysters, gradually narrowing the field to the final 20.

This week, individual panels in Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco will taste the wines with oysters, after which Rowley will tabulate all the scores to determine 10 equal winners of the 2008 "Oyster Award." Fellow panelists in San Francisco are to include KCBS Radio food and wine editor Narsai David, San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonne, Wine Spectator editor-at-large Harvey Steiman, veteran wine writers Bob Thompson of Napa Valley and Millie Howie of Sonoma County, and John Finger, president of Hog Island Oyster Co. of Point Reyes Station.

If Rowley follows his usual pattern, he will kick off the competition by reading the passage that inspired the exercise, a poetic tribute to the savoring of oysters and wine, from Ernest Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast."

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