Aw, shucks oys­ters and wine make a fine cou­ple

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

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

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