30 December 2021

Sweet, briny South Coast oysters are a heavenly match for Canberra wines

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Oysters with Canberra district rieslings

Oysters pair well with Canberra district rieslings. Photo: Supplied.

This year of wild weather has been a significant challenge for oyster growers, but the briny, creamy delights of the South Coast rock oyster will be gracing many holiday tables, perhaps paired with a flinty Canberra riesling.

Gabrielle Cowley is the Marketing Manager from Australia’s Oyster Coast Pty Ltd which manages the Appellation Oysters brand. The hand-graded oysters are chosen for their convex shape, size and high meat to shell ratio and are always sold live rather than shucked.

Around 60 farmers participate in the grading program, sending their produce to chefs like Neil Perry whose new Double Bay restaurant, Margaret, has an oyster fridge that runs at exactly the right temperature for Sydney Rock oysters.

South Coast oysters

The South Coast has extensive estuaries, perfect for oyster farming. Photo: Appellation Oysters.

“The Appellation oysters are shucked to order so the estuary water is still inside the shells,” Gabrielle says, explaining merroir – the distinctive flavours imparted to oysters by the waters where they grow. The concept is borrowed from the wine world’s understanding of terroir, the environmental factors that affect a harvest including soil types, environment and farming practises.

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The rock oyster is found along only 1500 kilometres of Australia’s east coast, including the inlets and waterways from Batemans Bay to Narooma. Experts say that although Pacific oysters will also exhibit merroir characteristics to some extent, rock oysters have a particularly strong ability to reflect growing conditions.

The South Coast’s maze of inlets and rivers emerging from pristine wilderness like the Deua mean that these growing conditions are surprisingly diverse, depending on functions including tidal flows, whether the oysters grow close to the estuary mouth or further up the river.

Rock oysters

Creamy flavours come from strongly developed adductor muscles in rock oysters. Photo: Supplied.

“Wagonga oysters have higher salinity, for example, because there’s a big tidal flow there,” Gabrielle says. “They grow amongst extensive seagrass beds and that gives them a very distinctive umami character.

“Further up the river, the flavour won’t be as briny. Another component is the sweetness that comes from the adductor muscle. That’s one reason why people love rock oysters, because the adductors get such a workout on the rocks and that contributes to the taste.”

Gabrielle has been collaborating with Shaw Vineyard at Murrumbateman on some flavour pairings that bring out the best in appellation oysters. She suggests that champagne and Spanish Albarino wines pair well with oysters, but premium Canberra district riesling is a match made in heaven.


Oysters are paired with sharp clear flavours that lift their creamy sweetness. Photo: Supplied.

“Canberra is home to the best riesling in Australia, and the Shaw Vineyard character is quite acidic and fruit-forward, so it’s lovely for a granita too,” she says.

La Nina has created a challenging season for oyster growers but access to estuaries up and down the coast that are part of the appellation program has ensured a good supply for the holiday season.

“There is so much hard work, love and passion and a hell of a lot of worrying about the weather that goes into growing and getting oysters to market,” Gabrielle says.

“It’s a beautiful close collaboration with Mother Nature. We’d love people to support NSW oysters, because it takes a lot of hard work to get them on your table.”

2 cucumbers, peeled and washed
1.2 cups Shaw Wines Estate Riesling
2 tbsp caster sugar
Juice of 2 limes
24 freshly shucked Appellation Rock Oysters
Rock salt. Cucumber peel. Fresh basil.

Juice the cucumbers in a blender and strain out the seeds. Combine the riesling, sugar, lime juice and cucumber juice in a baking dish. Place in the freezer for 3 hours and stir every 30 minutes until the mixture is frozen and granular. Arrange oysters on a bed of rock salt on a large serving platter. Spoon the granita over the oysters and garnish with the cucumber peel and fresh basil. Serve immediately.

2 shallots, finely chopped 4 tbsp white wine vinegar 1/2 tsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
24 freshly shucked Appellation Rock Oysters
Rock salt.

Place the shallots in a bowl with the vinegar, sugar and salt. Stir to combine. Set aside for 15 minutes to soak. Arrange oysters on a bed of rock salt on a large serving platter. Spoon dressing over the oysters.

1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp mirin seasoning
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp orange juice
24 freshly shucked Appellation Rock Oysters
Rock salt. Spring onion curls. Orange zest. Sesame seeds.

Combine the soy sauce, mirin seasoning, and lemon and orange juices in a bowl. Lightly toast the sesame seeds. Spoon dressing over the oysters and sprinkle with spring onion curls, orange zest and toasted sesame seeds.

3 tbsp riesling vinegar
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
3 finger limes, halved lengthways, pearls scooped out
24 freshly shucked Appellation Rock Oysters
Rock salt. Yarra Valley Caviar salmon pearls. Baby lemon balm leaves (optional).

Place the vinegar, lime zest and finger lime pearls in a bowl and whisk to combine. Arrange oysters on a bed of rock salt on a large serving platter. Drizzle dressing over oysters and top with salmon pearls and lemon balm, if using.

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