It’s easy to imagine sitting down to a great meal of your favourite Nova Scotian seafood paired with your favourite wine or beer. Now, imagine being able to test-drive different pairings, while peppering the producers with questions. Discovering new ways to eat and serve Nova Scotia’s amazing seafood is at the heart of the Sip ‘n Shuck experience. On a rainy Friday night at the end of January, dozens of like-minded Nova Scotians joined me in that experience at the Delta Halifax.
In my one-on-one visits with producers and restaurants, I’ve always encountered great people with a passion for food, who want an exciting, high-quality experience for their customers. Walking into Sip ‘n Shuck for the first time, I didn’t know what to expect, but the energy was bouncing off the walls.
A room full of friendly, enthusiastic people sharing their love of fine seafood, wine, and beer created a festive atmosphere. The laughter increased throughout the evening as people bonded over the mountains of fresh seafood and chilled Nova Scotian wines and beers.
My game plan for the evening could be described as “vaguely conceived,” so I let the layout of the room do most for the work for me. Walking the perimeter of the room, I canvassed the wineries for pairing suggestions while contemplating all the options in front of me.
I’ve had many opportunities to enjoy Nova Scotia wines, but meeting the friendly people from Avondale Sky for the first time was a treat. Their Sip ‘n Shuck offering, Tidal Bay, has a bit of smoke on the palate, which paired nicely with the luscious smoked salmon found on what I called “Mount Seafood” holding court in the centre of the room.
It was a happy coincidence that my next stop, L’Acadie Vineyards, paired equally nicely with the more savoury options on Mount Seafood. According to the friendly ladies with the vineyard, L’Acadie’s 2010 Vintage Cuvée Méthode Traditionelle paired nicely with smoked salmon, or, outside of Sip ‘n Shuck, a personal favourite – fresh sushi.
The Wines of Nova Scotia table had a sweet treat of a wide selection of Icewines poured into milk chocolate and dark chocolate cups from Gourmandises Avenue Chocolaterie. While this would normally be a nice dessert, life is short, so I enjoyed the Vidal from Grand Pré in a bittersweet dark chocolate cup well before my dinner. If you’re looking for equally sweet relief from winter, the Nova Scotia Icewine Festival takes over the province from February 2-12.
I could have easily sampled the light, bright white wines all night, but I had some seafood to eat. I made a beeline to the Eel Lake Oyster Farm table to chat with Nolan D’Eon, and, of course, eat some of his fine Ruisseau oysters. The oysters were presented on a bed of ice with a selection of toppings, both sweet and spicy.
I approached Nolan with my standard girl-reporter question, “How should I eat your oysters?” to which responded with a hearty laugh, “Straight up!”. Taking the first freshly-shucked oyster offered, I could smell the ocean and tasted a hint of sea water before taking a dignified slurp and eating the oyster straight up – just like Nolan said I should. What can I say, the man knows his oysters very, very well.
We’re so fortunate to have so many great white wines in Nova Scotia that I found I had lots of pairing opportunities. Luckily, two of my favourites were sharing a table, so I didn’t have far to go. A hearty L’Acadie Blanc 2010 from Blomidon Estate Winery, the product of the warmest vintage in recent years, giving it an interesting weight and concentrated flavour. The Benjamin Bridge Vero was light, but smooth, enough to complement without overwhelming. I’m just about the furthest thing from a wine expert, but I found both wines terrific pairing options for seafood presented simply, like freshly-shucked oysters.
With the clock ticking and a yearning for more oysters, I headed over to see the folks at Sober Island, whose bivalves were displayed on a backlit block of ice for full dramatic effect. Their bar had a well-balanced selection of flavours, featuring maple and cucumber mingnonettes, as well as a tasty cocktail sauce.
For a more decadent experience, tasters could have a Sober Island oyster topped with a splash of vodka or Sambuca. I had my oyster with the maple mignonette – with maple syrup, rice wine vinegar, shallots, and sugar – presented with a bit of sweetness, before the briny flavours of the rice wine and the oyster itself kicked in.
With so much eating and drinking to do, there were many delicious distractions. The Aquaprime mussels served three ways, each one requiring a second trip. My favourite were the ones were cooked in beer, though the maple ones and the wine ones weren’t far behind.
We haven’t even talked about the food that was in motion. While people circulated among the many tables of food and drink, there was also plenty of mobile food options. A lot of it streamed by while I already had full hands, but I managed to snag this delicious piece of halibut, as well as another oyster presented with apple cider.
As the clock approached midnight (okay, 7:30 p.m.), it was time to make tough decisions. I saved a bit of time to speak with Matt, the Garrison Brewing representative, who had three beers to choose from. I got a quick, thorough lesson in beer pairing: the hearty Irish Red for more robust dishes (I’m thinking smoked salmon), the Hop Yard for spicier fare (anything with a bit of chili heat), and Tall Ship Amber for lighter food without a lot of seasoning (like a fresh oyster or simple scallop).
As I mentally tallied up my eating and drinking for the evening, it was clear I had a special culinary experience. The concentration of knowledge and food enthusiasm in the room was a little overwhelming, considering I only possess the latter in any measurable amount, but it gave me even more ideas for mixing the best of our local seafood with the best of our local beverages.
If pre-buying a ticket for next year is an option, please sign me up immediately.
Sip ‘n Shuck is an annual event presented by: Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia, Delta Halifax, Discovermussels.com, Nova Scotia department of Fisheries and Aquaculture and Wines of Nova Scotia