Wine and Brine

Pairings and recipes from the Virginia Oyster Academy.

In one of the few places where you can taste a raw oyster pulled fresh from the water on the bow of a boat and then enjoy them back on land dressed up by a professional chef, the Virginia Oyster Academy at the Tides Inn in Irvington takes a “see one, do one, eat one” approach.

The experience begins with a talk about the history of oysters in Virginia given by Joni Carter, consultant with Virginia’s River Realm. Carter highlights the Eastern Virginia populations that have sustained themselves on oysters for centuries, as well as the economic and environmental effects of the industry.

Following the presentation, students embark on a harvesting excursion on the Rappahannock River with Captain William Saunders, who, along with his 19-year-old daughter Nicole, full-time mate and namesake of his Chesapeake Bay deadrise, demonstrates multiple methods of harvesting wild-caught oysters, from dredging to hand tonging. Exchanging playful jabs with his daughter, the waterman shucks a few bivalves fresh out of the water to taste raw and unadorned.

The wind-swept, salt-sprayed experience culminates in an oyster and wine affair fit for a foodie. Executive chef TV Flynn of the Tides Inn leads an expert wine and sauce pairing session and informative oyster roast featuring a shucking lesson on the terrace of the inn.

Flynn serves wild-caught oysters, like those harvested with Captain Saunders, from the waters of Carters Creek or the Rappahannock River adjacent to the inn. Here are some of the chef’s suggestions for successful wine and oyster pairings:

  • Raw oysters on the half shell accompanied by tequila lime mignonette or Bloody Mary cocktail sauce pair well with Vorin-Jumel Grand Cru Blanc de Blanc of Cremant, France. 
  • Serve fried oysters topped with a red pepper remoulade and serve alongside a glass of Linden Vineyards Avenius Sauvignon Blanc
  • Contrast the spiciness of Flynn’s signature dish, Buffalo-style “angry oysters”—inspired by his time working as a chef in New Orleans—with the tang and slight sweetness of a watermelon rind relish. This combination goes well with Rockbridge Vineyard Riesling from Raphine.
  • Roast pre-shucked oysters on the grill, allowing them to boil in their own shell in butter sprinkled with shallots, Old Bay, parsley and Parmesan and complement with Ankida Ridge Vineyards Chardonnay from Amherst.

Oyster Academy is open for reservations on Fridays and Saturdays through December, weather permitting. If you would rather not brave the wind of the oyster boat, grab a bottle of sparkling wine, shuck some oysters and enjoy Chef Flynn’s tequila lime mignonette and Bloody Mary cocktail sauce at home. Recipes below.

Tequila Lime Mignonette

1 cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup shallots, finely diced
2 teaspoons sugar
⅓ cup quality tequila
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons each red and yellow bell pepper, finely diced
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
sea salt to taste

In a saucepan combine vinegar, shallots and sugar and reduce by half. Remove from heat and let cool. Add remaining ingredients. Adjust seasoning as needed.
Bloody Mary Cocktail Sauce

1 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon hot sauce
½ cup chili sauce
3 tablespoons horseradish
1 tablespoon vodka
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon celery salt
1 ½ teaspoons worcestershire sauce

Combine all ingredients.
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