Appetizers
April 24, 2008
Beyond the Shells, Surprises

Results of the 14th Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition won't be compiled and released until Monday - the judging is spread over three days in three cities - but yesterday's round at the restaurant Sutro's of the Cliff House in San Francisco provided a few surprises:

- The Kumamoto oysters - more consistently firm, fresh, sweet and salty than they have been at the competition in recent years - weren't from the Pacific Northwest or even California, but Mexico. They again were provided by the competition's sponsor, Taylor Shellfish Farms of Shelton, Wash., which has expanded its operations to include a new aquafarm on the Pacific Ocean side of Baja California. Kumamotos, explained Jon Rowley, coordinator of the competition, thrive best in relatively warm water, thus the switch. Why Kumamotos for the judging? They're small, thus easy to slurp, chew and follow with a sip of wine to see how the pairing shapes up. I'm not sure if it was their size or their intensely briny flavor, but I had to eat four dozen to do the wines justice.

- Per usual, 20 white wines were in the finals. We didn't know the varietal or the producer of each until after the judging. For the first time in around six years, none of the 20 was either the Geyser Peak sauvignin blanc or the Dry Creek Vineyard chenin blanc, the latter made with grapes from Clarksburg. Both have finished regularly in the top 10 in recent years. Though I haven't tasted the latest vintage of either wine, I've a hunch that their absence from the finals says more of the intensified competition than any slip in their quality. This year's competition drew a record 200 wines. The final 20 are chosen during a marathon series of tastings in Seattle, then sent to panels in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. Rowley takes pains to assure that both the wines and the oysters are served at nearly identical temperatures in each venue.

- Regardless of producer or appellation, you likely will be on fairly secure ground if you order a sauvignon blanc or a pinot grigio/pinot gris when you're about to dive into a platter of raw oysters. Of the 20 finalists, 14 were sauvignon blanc, three were pinot grigio/pinot gris.

- Seven of the finalists are out of the Pacific Northwest, the rest from California, including two local representatives, the Lange Twins 2006 Lodi Sauvignon Blanc ($13) and the Lucchesi Vineyards & Winery 2007 Sierra Foothills Sauvignon Blanc ($16). (Lucchesi is in Grass Valley.)

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