Valentines Day came early for us this year, as my husband has to travel back to Sydney for a few weeks. We decided to celebrate this weekend and thought we would try to find some oysters that could match the ones we used to eat in Sydney: chunky and creamy and that taste like the sea.
We ordered in a dozen from Loch Fyne, and made a meal of them, freshly shucked with lemon juice, black pepper and some plain bread and butter – exquisite. They were everything and more that we had back home.
The choice of wine with the oysters was easy; sparkling wine is the classic partner because it is generally light and acidic, a good match for the delicate flavour of oysters. In particular, oysters often embody that umami flavour: the savoury “5th taste” that the Japanese call “the essence of deliciousness”. But it can be tricky to match with wine as it can decrease the perception of body, sweetness and fruitiness, and increase the acidity perception.
And because it must be pink on Valentines Day, we chose a 2010 Balfour Brut Rosé from the Hush Heath Estate in Kent. This winery is definitely on my list to visit with its combination of old and new: a beautiful manor, apple orchards, and vineyards first planted in 2002.
The bottle was beautiful in itself with its pink wine and pink, maroon, black and gold label, perfect for a sense of occasion; and it had a great mousse when poured, always fun in a sparkling wine. The mousse settled noisily, with the sound of the ocean you get from holding a shell to your ear, and left a good lot of wild, very fine bubbles.
The colour was, unexpectedly, a very delicate pale pink. In the bottle it looks very rosy but when poured it refines to a beautiful pale blush.
The nose was fascinating, no hint of floral for me but something I found unusually complex in a sparkling wine. I smelt fabulous vegetative and earthy tones like truffles or fresh tobacco and perhaps ripe tropical fruit like lychees or melons, but they were subtle, so they did not feel out of place in a sparkling wine: altogether a really interesting mix.
The taste lived up to the nose; first a great fizz, quite dry as you would expect from a brut, and then these amazing musky, minerally flavours that were absolutely delicious. The acidity kicked in slightly later and set the sides of my tongue tingling and my mouth watering. It had a good body in the mouth, as one would expect with good bubbles, and a longish finish of general sweetness that was balanced by the late acidity.
Interestingly, I found that when I tried the Balfour after the oysters, my impressions did not change. I think the oysters’ saltiness must have counterbalanced their umami effect, so that they were neutral in their effect on the wine. Which was ironic, because if ever there were a wine to drink with savoury foods, this would be it.
Overall, I was thrilled that I had discovered a sparkling wine that managed to combine unusual complexity and maturity with a refreshing elegant style . . which made for our perfect early Valentine’s Day!