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Ryleighs Oysterfest

Updated: Thursday, October 10 2013, 05:58 PM EDT
On Tuesday night, I headed down to Ryleigh's Oyster on Cross Street in Federal Hill to join a distinguished panel of judges for the annual Oysterfest. Now in its seventh year, the Oysterfest consists of the Oyster Ball and then an all-weekend mini-festival outside on Cross Street with-- well, you guessed it. The purpose of the judging panel is to decide which wines will be featured as the optimal pairing choices to go with said oysters. Gathering at a big table at the rear of the dining room were the seven judges for the evening, including myself, Chris Coker (wine director at Jack's Bistro), Laurie Forster ('The Wine Coach' and host of 'The Sipping Point' on WBAL Radio), chef Pat Murrow, and Chris Paternotte (Baltimore Coffee & Tea). The mix of judges changes every year, but I'm happy to say I've been involved with it since its inception. Ryleigh's Scotti Offutt always does a first-rate job of organizing these judging panels, and it's always a fun, raucous evening of opinions and smack talk. I've gotta admit, the wines and endless oysters aren't bad, either. This year, the judging consisted of six heats, consisting of five wines each. All bottles and labels are obscured, so the judging is blind. The goal is to pick not only a great-tasting wine, but one that specifically enhances the taste of the oysters. It can be tricky, and one of the heats consisted of five complete dogs (one of my notes in this round mentioned a "moldy sock nose"). However, this year's panel were almost always in close general agreement on the wines, and we worked through the 30 wines in about and hour and half, winnowing them down to a final five, which we then ranked. I can't divulge the winners here-- you'll have to wait until they're unveiled at this weekend's Oysterfest. After the official part of the tasting was over, we all kicked back with some excellent offerings from Ryleigh's kitchen, including crispy battered prawns, Clams Casino, calamari salad and raw tuna bites. A job well-done by all.
The following night was the Oyster Ball, and I showed up and enjoyed hanging out and talking with 'Downtown Diane' Macklin, Laurie Forster, Valerie Campbell, Chuck Gardner, Victor Acosta, Donovan Israel, and a slew of others. Both floors of Ryleigh's were packed with partygoers and many, many oysters were consumed. A great way to kick-off another Oysterfest! (Note: Oysterfest continues this weekend at Ryleigh's with an outdoor block party featuring live bands, an oyster shucking contest and specials; Sat. noon-9pm and Sun. 4-9pm; 36 E. Cross Street in Federal Hill.)
(Shown above: The judges sample oysters and many wines.)Ryleighs Oysterfest

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