Oyster New Year Offers Up Tasty Wine Pairings

Leslie Kelly
Oysters on display on a regular day at Elliott's Oyster Bar in downtown Seattle

I’m still recovering from a wild New Year’s celebration.

On Saturday, hundreds of shellfish fans converged in a massive tent on Pier 56 for Elliott’s 20th annual Oyster New Year, a celebration of the beginning of prime oyster eating time.

The high-energy event features 25 growers from around the Northwest, all hands on deck, shucking like crazy to feed the slurping crowd. It can get a little frenzied. Yes, I nearly got into a brawl with a woman who pushed me from behind. (When I turned to give her the stink-eye, she countered: “Well, I said excuse me.”)

Fortunately, things were much more civilized at the wine tasting stations around the sprawling event. While Oyster New Year’s sharpest focus is on those gems on the half shell, the fete has grown into a dynamite sip-a-thon, too, with more than 40 producers represented.

Good thing I had just read Shannon Borg’s stellar report in the November issue on food-friendly Washington wines because it made my first few choices as clear as the block of ice serving as the famous oyster luge.

I headed straight to Cedergreen Cellars, where winemaker Kevin Cedergreen was pouring his lovely Sauv blanc, Chenin and the beguiling red blend, Thuja. (Which I returned for later in the evening.) The whites were so spot on with the oysters.

But along with hitting up some of my usual faves from Barnard Griffin, Novelty Hill and Maryhill, I pushed myself to explore producers I rarely drink for whatever reason. Mostly because they’re from California and I am a hopeless homer when it comes to drinking wines from here. But doggone it, this was a good reminder that there’s some mighty fine wine being made beyond our borders. 

Domaine Chandon’s sparkling rose was gorgeous, as was the elegant Cuvee M from Mumm. The bright, bracing Pinot blanc from the Alsatian superstar Trimbach reminded me how much I enjoyed that varietal, especially with seafood.

Also happy to get reacquainted with my old friend, Sauvignon blanc from Cakebread. Oh, how I’ve missed you.

While savoring my final course – plump Penn Cove mussels simmered in a Thai-seasoned coconut broth - I sipped a gorgeous Riesling from Seven Hills Winery in Walla Walla and thought that this four-hour feast wasn’t nearly enough time to try all the pairings I had on my mental list.

But that’s OK. I can always take another run at it. And there's a feel-good hook, too. Through the month of November, every time you order a dozen oysters at Elliott’s, the restaurant will donate $1 to the Puget Sound Restoration Fund. Hooray!