It's a massive undertaking, this West Coast Oyster Wine competition, but Jon Rowley has done it 18 trimes now. Half a dozen experienced judges narrow down the 100 entries to 20, then Rowley takes the show on the road. Finalist panels, with a dozen or so judges, in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. Hundreds upon hundreds of exquisite little Kumamoto oysters. Dozens upon dozens of Riedel glasses. A lot of number crunching, a lot of anguish as Rowley realizes scores are so close there could easily be 15 winners. But rules are rules, the contest is for the top ten, and so ten it must be.
Read the list here.
Many of the wines have won before. A couple of welcome newcomers, a couple of previous winners drop off. It's not an easy thing. Wines are distinctive, that's their nature. Oysters are chewy and complex. The best oyster wine doesn't get in the way of the next oyster; it cannot be assertive but must remain humble. Not easy.
One might think that the judges would reach "consensus." Not so. This year, five of my ten favorites "made it" into the Top Ten. No one has ever had all ten; there is no "perfect palate" for oyster wines, no easily identified common denominator.
Taylor Shellfish Farms sponsors the annual competition. In Seattle, Anthony's at Shilshole provides the venue, the shuckers and the servers. And a tall glass of lager as a welcome, post-competition, palate cleanser.