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Fresh Oysters and Wine: Coastal California Edition

Steph Russo Wente Seaside 45

One of California's most popular delicacies is fresh oysters. These tasty shelled treats can be enjoyed on their own or as part of a seafood feast and always can be paired with wine. So, whether you’re a native Californian in the Bay Area or you live outside of the state, you can enjoy all that California has to offer.

Where to Get Oysters

In the Bay area, the most popular places to source oysters are Bodega Bay and Tomales Bay, which are just a two-hour drive north of Livermore Valley. Luckily for most Bay Area residents, you can find these oysters closer to home in your local market.

It's possible to get great oysters in other places, too. Washington state, Goldbelly, Hog Island Oyster Co., and Island Creek Oysters offer fresh oysters with overnight shipping.

Goldbelly sells fresh oysters from the coast to all across the country with various options, so you can feed your family or a crowd.

Hog Island Oyster Co. is located in Tomales Bay, CA, and offers a variety of oysters as well as shucking kits and oyster toppings. They offer monthly subscriptions, and you can also get specialty oyster boxes. One customer shared, "What a treat!! I think we’d like to try a different type every order. Our first was the Capital Oysters. Salty and fresh!"

Island Creek Oysters is a great choice for East Coast oysters. Located in Duxbury, MA, this company provides different varieties of oysters to choose. If you can't decide, there's also a sampler pack. They even have helpful online videos that demonstrate how to shuck your oysters. One reviewer said, "The oyster itself filled the entire shell. A beautiful look and delicious taste!"

Steph Russo Wente Seaside 44

What Is the Best Oyster Season in California?

Pacific oysters prevail in California. At local markets, you may find Olympia (Washington), Kumamoto, as well as eastern varieties of oysters. If you're new to this delicacy, try several varieties to determine your favorites. Western oysters are soft and creamy. Their flavor may range from a faintly mineral taste to a more pungent fish-like taste.

September to April reflects the highest demand for oysters. Fewer people buy oysters in the summer months. This may be because of the myth that people should eat oysters and other shellfish in months that contain the letter "r."

There's a logical reason that oysters are in less demand during summer, though. The summer months are spawning season for oysters, so, unfortunately, fishermen tend to find them on the thin side at this time. Extremely hot temperatures promote spoilage as well. For these reasons, it is recommended to eat oysters and drink fine wines during cooler months.

Farm-raised oysters may grow a little faster than the wild-caught variety. The shells harden a bit more quickly, too, which is good for the farmers who raise them.

What You Need for an Oyster Party

Bring along a shucking tool, towels, ice, bowls, a tray or platter, and a vinegar-water solution to clean the workspace.

You'll want to set the appropriate mood for your oyster shucking party as well. Whether you're hosting inside or out, you'll need a large table to keep the oysters on. This lets your guests eat at their own pace and sets a more relaxed tone for the gathering. Rustic wooden tables add to the coastal vibe. Be sure also to include a bucket for empty shells and easy cleanup.

As shucking oysters can get a bit messy, it's a good idea to have a separate setup for the wine. Include wines that pair well with oysters, like Sauvignon Blanc and unoaked Chardonnay. Don't forget the wine glasses and corkscrew.

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Shucking Your Oysters

If shucking is new to you, go slowly. Once you figure it out, you'll shuck oysters with ease.

Step 1:
Arrange the workspace. Start with cold oysters. Before you shuck them, keep them in a bowl with salted ice water. Submerge the oysters to keep them chilled until you're ready to eat them.

Step 2:
Fold a kitchen cloth lengthwise. Now, fold it into thirds. Use the towel to brace each oyster in the shucking process and protect your hands from any slips of the knife.

Step 3:
Place the oyster on your folded kitchen cloth. Position it so that the hinge points right if you're right-handed. If you're left-handed, place the hinge towards the left. Next, fold the cloth over the oyster to expose the hinge. Place your non-dominant hand atop to keep it steady. Bunch the folded cloth in front of your hand so if the knife slips, the cloth is there to protect your hand.

Step 4:
Position the shucking tooltip into the hinge, then work it up and down as you twist and rotate it. This motion helps to pry the top shell from the bottom. Apply sufficient pressure so that the knife remains in the hinge until you hear the pleasing "pop" of the shucked oyster.

Step 5:
Serve oysters on ice with lemon wedges and hot sauce if desired.

If you leave the oysters on the half shell, rim a baking sheet or use a platter filled with crushed ice and salt to keep them from spoiling.

Collect the empty shells in a large bowl or toss them directly into the garbage.

How to Pair Your Oysters

Some classic sauces, like oyster mignonette, add to the pleasure of eating these delicious shellfish.

We suggest pairing with our Morning Fog Chardonnay, Louis Mel Sauvignon Blanc, and Eric's Chardonnay. These wines pair exceptionally well with oysters. Oysters' salty, slightly acidic taste goes well with the mignonette sauce and accentuates the wines' flavors.

Travel to the California Coast

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A California coast road trip is full of exciting sights, sounds, and tastes. Quite often, roads lead to delightful wines and culinary experiences along the way. Be sure to schedule a stop at the Wente Vineyard Tasting Lounge to find the perfect pairing for your fresh California oysters.

The Livermore Valley has helped shape the wine industry in California since Spanish missionaries first planted wine grapes in the 18th century. Early vintners chose to make wine here because the climate, geography, and soil are ideal. The area's 50-plus wineries and, more recently, craft breweries attract visitors searching for California’s vibrant traditions.