Oysters and Champagne. Oysters and sauvignon blanc. Oysters and Bloody Marys. These are some of the most common (and delicious) pairings that many a food lover has on their radar. However, did you know that Cognac is actually a wonderful pairing for the bivalve? And, even better, Cognac can even elevate the flavor of the oyster without additional sauces.
We spoke to Ms. Franky Marshall, cognac educator, to get the lowdown on why oysters and Cognac seemingly get the shaft — and why the pairing needs to be next on your bucket list of tastings.
The Gourmet Insider: People may only know cognac as an after-dinner drink. Can you explain why that’s simply not the case?
Ms. Franky Marshall: There is such a wide variety of cognacs available right now, it’s an exciting time to be discovering and enjoying this spirit. Flavor profiles vary depending on where in the region they come from, how long they’re aged, what kind of cellar, house style, etc. From light, floral, fruit forward to full bodied eaux-de-vies that show off their oak influence, they run the gamut. The key is to experiment and drink seasonally. Whether you prefer to enjoy your cognac neat, in a long drink with ginger ale or tonic, or in any kind of cocktail, you can definitely find an expression to match the time of day or time of year.
TGI: What are some of the qualities of Cognac that pair well with oysters?
MFM: The versatility of cognac and its ability to pair with food is not to be underestimated. But to simplify it, i’ll stick to one of the basics of pairing “What grows together, goes together.” Fun fact: part of the cognac growing region sits along the Atlantic ocean and includes two islands: Ile de Ré and Ile d’Oléron. The eaux-de-vies that come from these areas can be fresh and lively with a mild salinity that’s a perfect match for oysters.
TGI: Is there a better option – East Coast or West Coast oysters?
MFM: Since West Coast tend to be smaller, sweeter, with less brine, they might be a better choice with a young VS showing white flower and apple notes. Whereas the salinity and meatiness of certain East Coast could be a great match for a fuller bodied VSOP, which also has enough tannins to cut through the milky richness of Gulf Coast oysters. The best option though is always the one you prefer!
TGI: How does Cognac elevate the bivalve experience in a way that other adult beverage options don’t?
MFM: Of course there are many options when it comes to oyster pairings. One unique quality that cognac offers is the ability to match the weight of oysters with the various styles. There are lighter bodied, floral cognacs that might pair better with certain varieties, or more unctuous expressions that can hold up to the rich creamy styles. Of course, feel free to contrast the styles as well. With cognac, you definitely have options to mix and match according to your taste.
TGI: What about accompaniments? Is there one or another that makes for a better pairing experience? Is there a surprise sauce/topping for oysters that cognac would pair amazing with?
MFM: The ideal is the enjoy the oysters in as close to their natural state as possible. They have so much flavor on their own that shouldn’t be overpowered by sauces. I prefer to taste an oyster “as is” first in order to appreciate the actual flavor. Then maybe just a drop or two of lemon juice or a classic mignonette, whose acidity will help amplify the flavors of both the oysters and the cognac, and keep the palate refreshed.
TGI: Is there one age (VS, VSOP or XO) that works the best with oysters? Why or why not?
MFM: The younger expressions, VS (oak-aged for a minimum of two years) or some VSOPs (four years) work best with most oysters. You don’t want too much oak influence to overpower, but just enough to compliment the oysters.
TGI: Any other lux, but surprise, cognac and food pairings?
MFM: Cognac goes with a variety of foods, from simple everyday snacks to special occasion delights. Staying with the aquatic theme though, I’d suggest a lobster roll. Specifically, Connecticut style – served warm with butter – paired with an XO cognac that’s been aged for a minimum of 10 years. This delicious decadent duo makes for a long, silky finish with every bite and sip.
Check out the video below for more!