Oysters and Champagne: The food of love?

Every few months, my mobile phone rings and in response to my “Hello Fred,” Fred Lewis intones “Oysters will arrive in the next day or two. How many do you want?”

Aside from being an accomplished arborist – Fred has featured in many Bolander stories about trees in Somerset West over the years – he is an oyster lover, and he has a friend who farms oysters at Kleinzee in the Northern Cape.

Whenever Fred’s friend makes the pilgrimage to the Cape Peninsula, he includes in his packing a whole pile of fresh oysters, and I am fortunate enough to always be offered what I want.

They come in two sizes, according to Fred – two-bite and three-bite oysters. We took 20 of the three-bite oysters last time, and they measured on average 14cm by 8cm. By way of example, if they were to be smoked and canned, a single oyster would not fit into the classic sardine-style tin one encounters at the local supermarket. That’s one big oyster.

Kleinzee oysters are the product of Kleinzee Mariculture, which utilises the pits and excavations of a worked out De Beers open-cast diamond mine, on the outskirts of Kleinzee. The oysters are reared to eating-size in baskets suspended below the surface on chains, and the seawater in the farm is reticulated by the old mining pumps.

One can of course cook oysters – steam, fry, braai – but for the aficionado, there is only one way to eat an oyster: fresh and raw, with a squeeze of lemon, a dab of Tabasco sauce, and a dusting of pepper.

And there is only one beverage that is considered appropriate with fresh, raw oysters: Champagne. But why? Well, aside from the obvious answer, that oysters and champagne are believed to be an aphrodisiac – a 2005 research paper did reveal that oysters eaten in spring, contain rare amino-acids that trigger the release of sex hormones – it has more to do with a flavour combination than anything else.

The Champagne region in France is famous for its Kimmeridgean limestone soils, which are the result of an historic sea basin that left behind significant mineral and sea fossil deposits when the waters receded. So many Champagne tasting notes make reference to “saline-tinged minerality” and “oceanic oyster-shell notes” that it would be hard to imagine a beverage better suited to quaff with fresh oysters, which truly do “smack of the sea.”

Which leads to the obvious question: do local bubbles have the kind of flavour profile that pairs well with oysters?

Well, John Loubser’s Silverthorn The Green Man is a good bet with its lovely minerality, as is Pieter Ferreira’s Graham Beck Brut Zero with its zero dosage induced savouriness, not to mention JP Colmant’s Chardonnay NV with its rich mineral complexity.

There are many more local Methode Cap Classique (MCC) bubbles that will fill the bill, but the one we settled on, probably because we happened to have a bottle in our loo-cum-cellar, was the Twee Jonge Gezellen Krone The Phoenix NV, so named after the renovation of this historic property in the Tulbagh Valley. The wine pairs perfectly with fresh oysters, with its steely dryness, and delicately savoury finish.

But the joy of wine and food pairing is the ability to experiment, so the next time you get your hands on some fresh oysters, take the trouble to research and track down a bubbly with the requisite flavour profile and indulge your taste buds. And besides, who knows what else might happen?