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Taste with KJ – Dry Ginjos with North American Oysters

Taste with KJ – Dry Ginjos with North American Oysters

Spring is in the air! It is a season of rejuvenation with flowers blooming and new love on the horizon. During this time, there is nothing I like better than indulging in oysters; the succulent, salty gems of the sea that have been known as aphrodisiacs since antiquity.

With such a powerful reputation to uphold, oysters may need a little help in the romance department. Beverage pairing is essential to awaken the mood and entice the senses. When pairing with oysters, most people rely mindlessly on white or sparkling wine.

But I have to ask, is wine really the perfect pairing for oysters? I can’t help but wonder how sake, which doesn’t fight with food, will fare against such standard pairing options. For those of us looking for a beverage partner that is more soft and accessible, look no further than dry sake for your next oyster excursion.

This month we are featuring Okunomatsu Ginjo paired with North American oysters!
Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we are lucky to have a diversity of cuisines and high-quality food products at our disposal. For this very specific challenge, I chose the local family-run Asian grocery store Tokyo Fish Market, established in 1963. They have a popular fish counter which has a wide array of North American oysters. The multitude of flavor profiles that emerged through pairing these oyster varieties was truly fascinating. Some worked better than others, but overall this subtle-fruited, dry Ginjo was a superb match.
Beau Soleil - New Brunswick, Canada - Known for being a great introduction to the oyster world, Beau Soleil oysters have taut flesh and a very briny flavor. These oysters succeeded in delivering a refreshing, brackish water effect which was heightened by adding lemon juice. The acidity allowed the oyster to express a richer, creamier side of its personality. When paired with Okunomatsu, it surprisingly brought out a powerful fishy note which didn’t exist previously. 

Fanny Bay - British Columbia, Canada - Fanny Bays are a refreshing oyster variety with cucumber and mineral notes. They are at a similar brine level as the Beau Soleils, but express more of a gamey-fish flavor, like trout or pike. When pairing the Ginjo sake with Fannys, the oysters brought out a sweetness in the sake that wasn’t there previously and the oysters maintained a refreshing quality. The pairing also allowed subtle notes of persimmon and mint to emerge.

Kumamoto - Oakland, WA - ‘Kumies’ are native Japanese oysters commonly produced in the Pacific Northwest. They have plump, thick flesh with a mellow flavor and were the most elegant oysters in the lineup. The sake complemented the oysters, but not much changed. The oyster maintained its unripe pear and melon flavor. This was the least dynamic pairing, but the freshness of the sake was best showcased here.

Pickering Pass - Pickering Passage, WA - Pairing Okunomatsu with Pickering Pass oysters was the most eye-opening collaboration by far. New flavors of carrots and sweet celery emerged between the two, reminiscent of a raw mirepoix mixture. The oysters made the sake seem sweeter, yet richly vegetal. Without a sip of sake, the mignonette and oyster alone combined to create a completely different experience which made the oyster flavor very clean, pure and persistent. The sake with just the oyster and without the sauce created a creamy and salty profile, as well as made the sake finish much longer.  I loved this pairing!  These creative flavor experiences inspired future visions of Okunomatsu sake working wonders with elbow macaroni salad and homemade chicken cutlets.
Miyagi - Hood Canal, WA  - Originally from Miyagi Prefecture, these oysters are mellow and silky; they also lack any fish or iron-like qualities. This pairing was my least favorite, with the oyster having minimal impact on the sake. While the sake flavor stayed consistent through this pairing, the oyster flavor was slightly extended and persisted long after the sake sip was finished. This pairing provided strong minerality overall and a pleasing texture.
Other Contenders: 

Fukucho Junmai ‘Seaside Sparkling - This sake from Hiroshima creates a salty condiment-like effect. It also provides a softness through its nigori lees that mimics the texture of creamy oysters. I highly suggest this sake with Miyagis which have a contrasting palate of smooth texture and firm minerality. Sparkling and tangy, this sake is a great alternative to bubbly wines. It is citrusy, with a balancing off-dryness that comes off tart and salty. This is sake literally made for shellfish.

Dewazakura Izumi Judan Ginjo ‘Tenth Degree’ - This Yamagata classic is known for its severe, yet addicting crispness. It has a firm dryness and a cutting kire finish. Spirit lovers who lean towards gin or vodka will like this option. I highly suggest Izumi Judan with briny Fanny Bays and Beau Soleils. 

More discoveries…

*The lower acidity level of the sake elevated the mignonette sauce to a starring role alongside the integral lemon wedge. The dryness of the sake balances the zesty acid of both. 

*Metallic aromas and fishiness can appear when the high iron content of oysters meets iron in a beverage. White wine contains around 0.4ppm of iron in comparison to sake with no more than 0.02ppm. Sake being virtually void of iron makes for a more seamless and effective pairing without any faulty flavors. 

*To my surprise, many expert oyster websites and famous restaurants like Hog Island Oyster Co. are already privy to the wonders of sake and oyster pairing. Check them out for some cool insights and additional pairing ideas. 

By the way, Jacob R. from San Jose tried Sogen Junmai from last month’s article with a rack of lamb and said it paired perfectly! Thank you for reaching out!

What are your favorite sake and oyster pairings? If you would like to share your thoughts, email me at and you could be featured in our next article. Kanpai for now!
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