Whenever I have friends in town, my motto is: When in Rome …
In other words, if you want to go to Fisherman’s Wharf, then you’re on your own.
In addition to a movie at the Castro Theatre, a walk on Ocean Beach and, weather permitting, an afternoon in Dolores Park, a top activity — and only for the very special and patient — is a pilgrimage to the Swan Oyster Depot restaurant.
Last weekend, a colleague visiting from New York City met me in line for Swan and we waited for close to an hour, looking forward not only to oysters and prawns but also a glass of muscadet. Once parked at the counter, I noticed that the 2008 Stony Hill chardonnay was available by the glass. Since my companion had not tried this producer before, a glass was ordered.
A chardonnay that’s not malolactic fermented, Stony Hill is fairly atypical and, unusually for chardonnay, went pretty well with raw oysters and was a surprisingly good accompaniment with cherrystone clams. Nonetheless, the muscadet my friend ordered, which did not have the same pedigree as the chardonnay, was the wine to have with oysters.
Experiment all you want, but in the end, when it comes to oysters, I always come back to muscadet. Most dry, crisp, mineral-driven white wines such as gruner veltliner, soave, albarino and vermentino go with raw seafood well enough.
Champagne is another traditional pairing. Chablis is the only other sure bet, but even the least expensive wines from good producers cost more than muscadet. Oysters might be as much of a winter food as any, yet this time of year makes me want to eat lighter and fresher foods. And raw oysters with muscadet, especially any of the following, are a seasonal treat.
Here are three of the best you can find:
- Claude Branger Muscadet de Sevre et Maine, Les Fils des Gras Moutons, Sur-Lie, 2011: Branger’s wines snowball with nuance over time. I’ve tried some that were 10 years old and were at the very least pleasant. That said, I’m just as happy to drink this when it is young, crisp and zesty. Suggested retail: $13.50
- Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sevre et Maine, Sur-Lie, 2011: Marc Ollivier was one of the first muscadet producers to tow the organic line, and the quality of his wines has influenced many others to follow suit. Composed of vines that are 40-plus years old, this is a fuller-bodied style but still has the piquancy you would expect from muscadet, with citrus, saline and minerals. Suggested retail: $14
- Pierre Henri Gadais, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, Saint Fiacre, Sur-Lie, 2011: The younger of the two vineyards used to make this wine was planted in 1954, and the older in 1929. Fermented and aged in subterranean, enamel-lined concrete vats, it is everything that muscadet should be: limey, briny, lean and clean. Suggested retail: $15
These wines can be found through Arlequin Wine Merchant, Bi-Rite Grocery, Cheese Plus, Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, K&L Wine Merchants, Paul Marcus Wines and San Francisco Wine Trading Co.
Pamela S. Busch is a wine writer and educator who has owned several wine bars in San Francisco, including Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen.