For September, we took a break from our usual format in favor of a pairing challenge, where the goal was to decide which wines were better matches with specific dishes. And because we didn't feel like hand washing thirty-six wine glasses this month, we decided to have just Ali & Andy over for dinner, instead of the customary table of six. But we still poured our wines blind, so not only did we not know what types of wine each couple brought to the table, but also which glass they were poured into.

David prepared a menu consisting of roasted oysters with oregano garlic butter for the first course, then a main course of slowly cooked beef rib with paprika anise rub.

Our wine choices for the oysters turned out to be an inexpensive Verdejo against an unusual Sauvignon Blanc from Slovenia, then a battle between two big Napa Cabernet Sauvignons for the beef. We had a split decision on the whites, with men picking the Verdejo, and the ladies enjoying the Sauvignon Blanc pairing better. All of us felt that the Silver Oak Cabernet was a slightly better wine, showing a little more balance, but in the end decided that the Lewelling was a superior match with the richness of the beef.

We enjoyed this setup so much by the end of the night that we vowed to do this again, only with the full complement of guest tasters.

Wines are listed below in the order tasted:

Marqués de Cáceres Verdejo 2021 (Rueda). Frankly light yellow in color, but also luminous, with a bright nose of lemongrass, candlewax, banana, pineapple, honey, mango, lime zest, and lemon thyme. Tasters found the palate to be lively and generous, having flavors of pineapple, granny smith apple, and green pear. Not shy. Ali decided that it was "round, but with a nice flare on the finish." Well-made, and charmingly boisterous. Both David and Andy liked how the acidity cut through the richness of the herb butter, and felt it was a better match. Andy enjoyed how this one was lifting up the flavor of the oyster, while the Sauvignon Blanc was riding along site it. Andy & Ali's bottle. About $12.

Kobal Sauvignon Blanc 2021 (Lower Styria, Solvenia). Straw-colored and more translucent than the Verdejo, showing scents of oranges, walnuts, cedar, wet stone, and yogurt. Darker, with an oily quality. Clean tasting and richer, with flavors of oranges, fresh herbs, cottage cheese, citrus oil, apple pie, and something soapy. More serious in comparison to the Verdejo. Great intensity. Ali felt that the herbal quality was a better pairing for the oysters, and Kristin enjoyed it more for its richness. Kristin & David's bottle. About $15

Lewelling Cabernet Sauvignon Wight Vineyard 2016 (St. Helena).  Inky, opaque, dark ruby color. Concentrated dark cherry aromas, plus plums, cassis, mocha, eucalyptus, menthol, chocolate covered cherries, prunes, molasses, blood, and iodine. The alcohol stood out a lot. A little bit of wood. Andy felt that the nose was "dark and brooding." Plush in texture, but stays elegant, even though a little too much alcohol is evident. Very full-bodied. Flavors of bitter chocolate, cassis, black cherries, coffee, and vanilla. Refined tannins. The alcohol initially was a little distracting, but appeared to be more integrated with time and food, and overall we enjoyed the richness of the beef with this better than the Silver Oak. Kristin & David's bottle. About $95.

Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 (Napa Valley). Looks older. Pretty nose. Tasters found scents of gorgonzola cheese, raspberries, pomegranate, strawberry rhubarb pie, cigar box, leather, and dust. Fantastic on the palate, this was described as "splendid" by Andy, and "total harmony" by David. Seamless and beautiful, this tasted more mature than the Lewelling, but with plenty of tannins. Andy declared, "It just shut me up -- it just slapped me across the face and told me to sit down." Ali & Andy's bottle. About $135.

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