Pairing Oysters with Sherry: When are oysters 'in season'?

Hylton Espey Oyster

One of our absolutely favourite pairings is oysters and a dry sherry. How could it not be? The salinity in the oysters and the Fino echoes between them and is the perfect thing to take in while by the sea. But the best time to have your oysters and sherry might not be what you think—perhaps you've heard the rule of thumb that oysters should be eaten only during months that contain an 'R' (sorry, May, June, July, and August). While this is somewhat outdated (we're looking at you, modern refrigeration and transport!), oysters harvested in the winter are still seen as the prize. The summer months may allow us to enjoy them outdoors in the sun, but winter months are peak season for oysters. 

"Everyone associates oysters with summer, but oysters are better in the winter when the water's colder," says nature-inspired chef Hylton Espey. He's head chef at Rastella at Merchants Manor in Cornwall, and our go-to guy on local produce, seasonal food, seafood pairings, and, of course: oysters. 


Why do oysters taste better in the winter?

Oysters in Hand

Since oysters reproduce during the summer months in the warmer water (in some places where the water is warm year-round, they reproduce year-round), they use up all their energy on making oyster babes and thus become a bit more flabby and less flavorful. Once the water temperatures drop and are less suitable for reproduction, they're resting and become leaner—getting back that special crisp, briny flavour every oyster-lover seeks and uses to compare origin points.

 Half the fun of eating oysters might be debating oyster provenance, and Chef Hylton is all in on Cornwall. "Living on the south coast of Cornwall we have some of the best oysters that I have ever had. Last year we moored our sailboat in Ponsence Cove at the entrance to the Helford and foraged for natives, which we ate freshly-shucked, seasoned with sea water," but, obviously a true lover in all their forms, he adds "From the Fal to the Helford, Native or Pacific, North Coast or South Coast, they are all amazing and world class." We couldn't agree more.

The best wine to pair with oysters

You need something to match the brine and salinity that oysters bring to the table (and lips) and a Fino or Manzanilla sherry is largely considered one of the best wine pairings for oysters due to its kindred notes. The Palomino grape (which sherry is made from) and oysters sort of share a terroir (if we can call the sea a terroir): the Palomino grape is blasted by the gorgeous sea breeze in Andalucia and makes for the unique freshness found in dry styles of sherry. So we have to agree that a glass of ice-cold Fino sherry is the perfect pairing for oysters, or even one of our Tuxedo Martinis: the herbaceous gin and bitters are another layer of perfection.

Cooked oysters or freshly-shucked?

Does it matter if you're eating your oysters raw or prepared in another way? No, the nuttiness of sherry from the fortification will hold up to any heat you give your oysters, either in a glass by its side or in the dish itself. Head to see Chef Hylton in Cornwall: "Oysters will always have a special place on my menus. We currently serve them in an Oregon style which a friend of mine, Robbie Kostrba, cooked for us in Colorado. The oysters are thrown onto an open fire until the shells pop open, and then finished with creamed horseradish and garlic butter. My version has them poached in the shell, finished with wild garlic butter, seasoned with dried sea lettuce and topped with a horseradish Aioli," or take it on yourself with this recipe for Grilled Oysters with Spicy Tarragon Butter from Bobby Flay, or a classic Oysters Rockefeller from Bon Appétit. Pour a glass of XECO Fino and you've got yourself an evening.


Chef Hylton and our co-founder Beanie talked about oysters and more food pairings during International Sherry Week and it was a dream to hear two people so knowledgeable talk about all the ways sherry can be used with and in food:



 Images from Hylton Espey, and Pixabay.