Sublime toast to oysters

Sue Clarke and Andy Kilsby (foreground) enjoy a wine/oyster matching seminar at Wine Freedom in Dunedin at the end of last month. Photos: Linda Robertson
Sue Clarke and Andy Kilsby (foreground) enjoy a wine/oyster matching seminar at Wine Freedom in Dunedin at the end of last month. Photos: Linda Robertson
As an island nation, we have access to a wealth of seafood, with shellfish commonplace. Bivalves, one branch of the mollusc family, are shellfish typically characterised by a shell divided into two halves (valves) connected by a hinge.

Clams, mussels, scallops, pipis, tuatua and toheroa are just some of the bivalves enjoyed around New Zealand, yet there is another with an almost cult following: oysters.

The Bluff oyster season begins at the start of March and concludes on August 31 (or earlier if the year's quota is reached), with devotees eagerly looking forward to their annual taste(s) of this delicacy.

Some love them cooked, others insist on them raw: whichever your preference, there are several sublime wine pairings to take the experience to another level.

Wine Freedom in Dunedin recently held its annual Oyster & Wine Matching Tasting, with customers invited to bring their own oysters, while Paul assembled a group of possible wine matches.

Champagne or methode traditionelle is one of the classic pairings; the savoury notes from the yeast finding umami in the oyster, while the textural contrast of the bubbles with the velvety richness of the shellfish is superb.

Chablis: Chardonnay from the north of Burgundy in France (youthful un-oaked Chardonnay is our closest alternative) often has a ''seashell''-like note to it, which matches perfectly. The zesty acid also neatly cuts through the creaminess of the shellfish. Another inspired combo.

Wine Freedom owner Paul Williams.
Wine Freedom owner Paul Williams.
Muscadet is a wine from the Loire typically paired with shellfish from the French Atlantic coast. Dry, minerally, yet with surprising depth, it acts as a foil to the richness. Similarly Picpoul de Pinet from the Languedoc has a lemon-lime freshness that almost creates its own seasoning for the oyster.

Albarinho: a grape from Northern Portugal and Spain, which we now grow here, combines a richly textural palate with citrus notes and a saline twang that seems destined to pair with shellfish.

Sauvignon Blanc (particularly Sancerre or Bordeaux sav/sem blends) and drier Vouvray/Chenin Blanc and Riesling can also be a success, while a left field (and harder to find) option is the Greek white grape Assyrtiko, though one perhaps surprising combo is stout. Black vs white, the rich creaminess of each a match, with the bitterness of the stout counteracting the saltiness of the oyster. An intriguing match.

Of course, you can create your own pairings: the experimentation is all part of the fun!

Interested in wine tastings, and learning more?

Wine Freedom runs regular themed tastings throughout the year. Go to to sign up for their newsletters.

Cableways Liquorland also runs a busy schedule of tastings, not just restricted to wine. To get on its mailing list email

The Food & Wine Society has a vibrant chapter in Dunedin, which hosts regular food and wine matching dinners throughout the year.

For more information contact club president Jules Radich at or club secretary Penelope Jaggar at


2015 Tohu Rewa Marlborough Blanc de Blanc Methode Traditionelle
Rating: Excellent to outstanding

Oatmeal biscuit, bready, savoury, a powerful nose. That power continues in the mouth, the richness filling every corner, with a beam of lemony citrus running through the wine. Stonefruit nuances on the front palate, with lanolin and sherbet adding a counterpoint to the bready/yeasty notes.

Great mousse and a very long, dry, crisp finish.



NV Hunter’s Miru Miru
Rating: Very Good to Excellent

Subtle out of the blocks, hints of strawberry, musk and savoury nuances with bready/warm baguette notes growing over time. Supple mouth feel, nice integration, a little fruit sweetness balanced by the citrusy core, with some attractive savoury notes adding a bass note.

This grows in intensity, providing very appealing drinking.



2016 Deutz Marlborough Blanc de Blanc Methode Traditionelle
Rating: Excellent

Attractive nose, savoury elements, a wild almost funky note and tangy sourdough. Real drive and intensity to the palate, the yellow fruits offer richness, the citrus zestiness, while the powerful savoury notes give depth and weight. Nice integration here, refreshingly crisp, dry finish and excellent carry.

A nice example.

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