Around my area, Max Restaurant Group is king. Their eight independent restaurants are all extremely successful and known for some of the best-tasting food and highest-quality drinks in the state. MRG also puts on lots of foodie-and-wino-targeted events. Though I’ve only heard great things about what’s served, I also have noticed that most of the events have quite a price tag. So imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when I saw an event on the calendar for January that was only $35/person – the “2012 Oysters and…” tasting of oysters from Max Fish, one of the MRG restaurants specializing in seafood, and white wines from Willamette Valley Vineyards, brought by the founder of the vineyard himself, Jim Bernau.
My dining partners at this event were my go-to foodie guys, Jeff and Evan. In fact, I have another tasting we attended not-so-recently that I hope to recap this week, but that’s neither here nor there.
I was beyond pleasantly surprised to see Jim himself there representing Willamette Valley Vineyards, because I had actually met him the day before at the Sun WineFest! In fact, his Willamette Pinot Noir (yum) was my very last sip of alcohol of the day, right before I headed to the main stage to cover the Oyster Open. The WineFest, by the way, occurred the day before this oyster and white wine tasting, so I considered it an extension of my WineFest culinary adventure!
Oyster expert Kim Kockza taught us a lot about what we were about to eat, and continued to educate us about oysters as we slurped them down. So much goes into oyster farming! Southern oysters of the US take about 12-18 months to grow, whereas are some oysters grown around the world that take up to seven years. Oysters are often grown in a controlled environment to the size of a quarter, and then released into bodies of water so that they can nom on plankton all day and get nice and beefy for OUR consumption. They eat, then we eat, the circle of life!
When Evan tried to squeeze lemon onto his first oyster, Kim certainly gave him a talking to. She wouldn’t allow it! We had no sauces either – this event was all about tasting the oyster in its purest form.
Oysters taste different depending on what species they are, where they are farmed, the farmers’ methods, and more. I’m extremely inexperienced with oysters – in fact, this was my first time having them raw like this – but I could still tell that a difference existed between certain species. Some had subtle flavor variations that I preferred to others. However, all of the oysters (no matter what kind) had the unfortunate habit of shedding little pieces of shell that kept getting caught on my tongue and in my teeth!
All of the oysters we sampled at Max Fish were from British Columbia. Three species were paired with three different white wines. Another slightly adventurous event for me, since I am a red lover at heart (hearts are red, ha!), and I have been trying to explore whites and give them a chance. I did not like any of these whites as much as a red, but pairing them with the oysters was certainly fun!
- Gigamoto oysters with 2009 Pinot Gris: I enjoyed the wine portion of this pairing more than the oysters. They tasted very, well, raw. The taste was a bit more harsh and in-your-face seafood (if that makes any sense) than I would have preferred. The Pinot Gris and its clean taste did pair well with them and each sip was a satisfying cleanse to the palate. These oysters, though, were not really for me.
- Miyagi oysters with 2010 Riesling: These oysters definitely tasted better thanks to their creamier texture. Kim showed us that the oyster’s white belly could tip us off before even tasting it that creaminess would come into play here. At first sip, the Riesling was way too sweet for me (they usually are). However as I continued to pair the miyagi oysters with the wine, I enjoyed the Riesling more and more.
- Pacific rim oysters with 2009 Chardonnay: I was not the biggest fan of the Chardonnay paired with these oysters. I’m not sure if it was the oysters, or the wine (it’s hard for me to like a Chardonnay) but I definitely preferred the other two whites to this wine. These oysters were more similar to the gigamotos to me (less creamy than the miyagis).
Jim is a great guy, so down-to-earth, and he gave us lots of good wine education while we slurped and sipped! Willamette Valley is in Oregan, and Jim has owned the land for 29 years. His key wine making principle is stewardship of the land, so anyone buying Willamette Valley wines can be confident that the beauty of the valley is preserved and the land is well cared for before, during, and after harvest.
Our last portion of the tasting involved some oysters that had been “tinkered” with – in the best way! Instead of served raw, these were served with some tasty garnishes.
On the left are two oysters topped with a chard gilee and chives. On the right are two oysters topped with an apple-bacon relish! I liked those the most out of the two (kinda obvious, it’s bacon), but the chard gilee oysters were great as well, and both went well with some leftover Chardonnay I still had. In fact, I liked the Chardonnay a little more after I paired it with these beauties! I have to say, raw oysters are not exactly for me r. I don’t think I’d ever order them out, but when it comes to garnished or stuffed oysters, I’m game!
Evan and I took turns snapping photos of each other eating the oysters. I went with the shot-glass-method:
Evan went with the slurping method, and I hate to say it, but I think he wins this round. He looks fancy! Or like he’s making out with the oyster.
Before we left, the three of us had to get a photo with the lobster tank. Too bad we failed and stood directly in front of it.
After leaving, we proceeded to J. Gilbert’s to take advantage of a free appetizer FourSquare deal and oh yeah, split a bottle of wine. Then back to Max Fish for late night happy hour bites. Yes, it was a bit of a spontaneous Monday out, but we kept it both cheap and sophisticated.
Thanks to Max Fish for hosting a cool event and to Jim for sharing his wines with us!
How much experience do you have with oysters? What about white wines?