Pairing Off: Smoked Oysters And Anchovies Packed In Oil

Who eats these things anymore? Hell, you can hardly find anchovies on a Caesar salad. And tins of smoked oysters seemed passe decades ago.

But someone must appreciate the metallic, acrid mush of the latter and hairy blast of salt that characterize the preserved fish--although likely with a few brewskis...while sitting in some Milwaukee ranch house...after a Sunday drive in the station wagon...

Storing seafood in oil or brine was a necessity in the days before refrigerated shipping, of course. In some parts of the world, items like pickled herring still appear on menus. But anchovies have been disappearing from pizza and smoked oysters from the ends of party-colored toothpicks since the 70s.

These days, they are acquired tastes. And the few who do acquire a hankerin' for the oily canned flesh presumably never sip wine between bites.

Therefore one would expect this to be the pairing that stumped the experts.

One would be wrong.

"Sparkling, all the way," says Matthew Scott, wine director at Abacus without pausing to think about the question at hand. "The acidity will help."

Sounds reasonable, especially with the oysters. Because there's no way of telling beforehand how much salt will linger in the stubbly little fish, however, a decent bottle might just crash and burn. "I would go with either a Sancerre or an Albarino," suggests Michael Needleman of Pogo's--again without batting an eye (or giving one of those "call the manager" looks).

Interesting. The Albarino grape produces a fresh, rich white wine popular in the northwestern reaches of Spain. While Sancerre can sometimes turn out "lean and dry," according to Needleman, the Paco & Lola Albarino ($18.99 at Pogo's) "is a lovely little wine."

And it is, especially when paired to the oysters. The wine is like sniffing a pineapple juice can just after it has been emptied. But the taste is of fresh fruit--light, sharp and somewhat tingly, yet with an odd richness behind it. All of this holds up to the oysters, cutting through the oily coating without supplanting the smokey, metallic taste, making for a surprisingly clean experience.

Perfect...until you pop open the anchovy tin.

The wine struggles to wrestle down these salty bastards--each time succeeding momentarily before losing control, allowing intense, burning brine to climb back across your palate and gain a foothold.

Ah, well. We knew that would be a losing battle. For a few brief seconds, however, the fresh pineapple sensation was a nice respite.

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