Aw, shucks oysters and wine make a fine couple
I’ve eaten oysters all over the globe, from Loch Fyne in Scotland to a hawker stall in Bangkok and Bentley’s in London, where chef Richard Corrigan expertly shucked half a dozen of Carlingford’s best and served them with a glass of sancerre. But nothing prepared me for eating oyster and steak tartare paired with pinot noir on the terrace of Château St Pierre de Serjac in the beautiful Languedoc-Roussillon countryside.
The oysters were sourced just 20 miles away at Tarbouriech. Accessed by a narrow, single-track road flanked by vineyards, the oyster farm and bar that overlooks Étang de Thau (a saltwater lagoon set between the port cities of Sète and Agde) feels remote, idyllic and peaceful and yet is a 45-minute drive from Montpellier airport. On a lunchtime in early autumn, the sun beating down on the wooden terrace set with tables made from old wine barrels, it was the perfect setting for a mollusc feast.
Our appetiser came in the form of a barge tour of the farm. There was an eerie quality about the simple metal frames that dot the water and echo with baleful screeches and cries. But there was nothing supernatural going on, just a simple yet brilliant bit of technological innovation.
Patented in 2006, Marée Solaire (solar tide) is a system of cords suspended from metal poles, each connected to a motor. The oysters are cemented to the cords by hand (110-130 oysters per cord, with 1,250 cords on each of Tarbouriech’s 100 oyster beds; that’s a lot of oysters, although about 50 per cent are lost due to natural mortality) and at the press of a virtual button on an iPad, the poles rotate, emitting that ghostly wail as they turn, raising or lowering the oysters in and out of the water.
“A wild oyster would sit on a rock and go in and out of the water because of waves and tides. We reproduce that natural habitat as much as we can,” explains our guide, who tells us that only after three years of daily dipping are the oysters ready to be harvested. “The time they are out of the water they very firmly close their shell to retain water inside the shell, so every single day they do a little bit of muscle training which makes the texture a lot more fleshy.”
Back on dry land, platters of the oysters arrived on ice, accompanied by glasses of Picpoul de Pinet, made at Domaine de Morin-Langaran, just three miles from where we sat; the floral, citric notes a perfect balance to the refined salty sweetness of the oysters that were big enough to almost fill the palm of my hand.
But even this picture postcard scene was topped by that extraordinary meal at Château St Pierre de Serjac. It was harvest time when we arrived at the stunning 200-acre estate, and we could see the mechanical grape harvesters at work in the surrounding fields from our luxury room that retained the château’s 19th-century elegance with its crystal chandelier, gilt mirrors and rolltop bathtub.
As a joint venture between Irish hoteliers Karl and Anita O’Hanlon and winemaker Laurent Bonfils – who also run the nearby Château Les Carrasses and are opening a third Languedoc property, Château Capitoul, in early 2020 – Serjac was the ideal venue to
Languedoc classic: oysters and sea snails