Old Ebbitt Grill's Oyster Riot® is one of the greatest parties of the year in Washington, D.C. Always held the Friday & Saturday before Thanksgiving, the Riot is the area's preeminent food & wine event. Each night, hundreds of people devour thousands of oysters while enjoying the gold medal winners of the International Wines for Oysters Competition and grooving to some awesome tunes.
The 26th Annual Oyster Riot took place in the Atrium of the Old Ebbitt Grill on November 17th & 18th, 2023. The evening sessions were backed by the groovy tunes of the Yacht Lobsters playing all of your favorite yacht rock tunes from the 70s and 80s while the Matinee Riot once again featured the blues backed tunes of Bad Influence. Our poster this year was designed by Madalyn Stefanak and we love her use of the red, white and blue colors. In a town that can often be divided over many issues, the Oyster Riot is a truly American event that brings people together over some things we can all agree upon – great oysters, great wines and great tunes make a great Oyster Riot! To that point, this year we suggested that Riot attendees dress in red, white and/or blue to celebrate the occasion.
What is an Oyster Riot?
The Oyster Riot is a celebration of the pairing of oysters and wines. It is a one price, all-inclusive food, wine and music party. If you have not been, think fun cocktail party. If you have been, you know it ain’t no cocktail party, it’s a Riot!
How are the oysters chosen?
The 20-30 varieties of oysters that are served each year at the Riot go through the same careful selection process that any oyster being served at the Old Ebbitt Grill throughout the year must clear. First, batches of any oyster hoping to be served at the Riot are sent to laboratories to ensure they meet our strict (stricter than FDA) guidelines to ensure safe consumption. Then a panel of “oyster aficionados” taste dozens and dozens of oysters to make sure we are only serving the most beautiful oysters that represent the best of each variety from cold water regions around the country. A special shout-out to Bart Farrell, VP of Development, Design and Facility and Noaman Derakhshanrokni, Purchasing Manager who have overseen this herculean task every year since the Riot’s inception.
How are the wines chosen?
Each year we host the Old Ebbitt Grill International Wines for Oyster Competition to determine the Grand Champion and Gold Medal Winners that will be featured at the Riot. Any wine in the world can enter and through three rounds of blind tastings over weeks leading up to the Riot, the winners are selected and then announced publicly at the Riot. Old Ebbitt Grill International Wines for Oysters Competition was inspired by the Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition, organized over thirty years ago by seafood consultant Jon Rowley in Seattle. Mr. Rowley compared his competition to “a dating service for wines and oysters.” We are eternally grateful to Michael Franz, wine writer, educator, consultant, and editor of Wine Review Online, and the late Paul Lukacs, award-winning author, educator, wine writer, and consultant, for their guidance and palates throughout the years to bring the Competition from its infancy to the celebration it is today.
How did the Oyster Riot Start?
In 1995, Tom Meyer, then Clyde’s President, sent David Moran, Area Director of Operations, out to Seattle to be a judge in Mr. Rowley’s competition and immerse himself in Seattle’s oyster culture. Upon his return, David told Tom he would like to replicate an East Coast version of the competition on a larger scale at the Ebbitt. Tom replied, “Why don’t we just throw a great party with oysters and wine, that’s what we’re good at.” Over a few dozen oysters and a few glasses of Chablis, the International Wines for Oysters Competition and the Oyster Riot® were born!
The first Oyster Riot was held in October 1995 to promote Old Ebbitt Grill's newly relaunched oyster bar which served 15 to 20 different varieties of oysters matched with up to 10 different types of wine. The Riot was an instant hit and after the first two years expanded to two nights with tickets often selling out within minutes of being on-sale the Tuesday after Labor Day. In 2009, we added the Matinee session on Saturday afternoon which has now become as popular as night sessions.
Sadly, Mr. Rowley passed away in 2014 but his inspiration lives on at the Oyster Riot. Each year he would raise a glass an offer the following toast from Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast “as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
On November 6, 2023, the eve of Election Day, a panel of judges convened in the Cabinet Room at Old Ebbitt Grill for the final round of the Old Ebbitt Grill International Wines for Oysters Competition. Their task was to select gold medal winners from among 20 finalists. The remaining wines earned silver medals, while the bronze medal winners were chosen during the semi-final round a week earlier.
An impressive 292 wines from all over the world were entered in this year’s Competition. Within the United States, 72 wines were submitted from five states (California, Maryland, New York, Oregon, and Washington). Wineries from 16 other countries entered a total of 220 wines— Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Chile, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, and South Africa. Over the course of several weeks in October the Clyde’s team of David Moran – Area Director of Operations, John Filkins- Corporate Beverage Director, and David Del Bene- Old Ebbitt Grill Beverage Manager tasted each of these wines with an oyster. The field was reduced to 60 semi-finalists and then tasted again to get to the final 20 wines for this year’s Competition.
Le Garenne Crémant de Loire, Loire Valley, France, NV
Scharffenberger Brut Excellence, Mendocino County, CA, NV
Inazio Urruzula Getariako Txakolina, Basque, Spain, 2022
BEST NEW ZEALAND
Forrest Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, NZ, 2022
Palmer & Co. Champagne Brut Reserve, Reims, France, NV
Sea Pearl Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, NZ, 2022
Fire Road Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, NZ, 2022
BEST LOCAL WINE
Windridge Vineyards Albariño, Darnestown, MD, 2022
BEST GRÜNER VELTLINER
Count Karolyi Grüner Veltliner, Dunantul, Hungary, 2021
BEST SOUTH AFRICAN
Simonsig Winery Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2022
Our Distinguished Panel of Judges
Nadine Brown (sommelier & wine consultant), Bill Butcher (Port City Brewing Co.), Bart Farrell (VP Development, Clyde’s Restaurant Group), John Filkins (Corporate Beverage Director, Clyde’s Restaurant Group), Michael Franz (wine writer & consultant), Mary Beth Gaiarin (Siema Wines), Luca Paschina (Barboursville Vineyards), Tierney Plumb (Eater), Anna Spiegel (Axios), Sally Swift (The Splendid Table), and Tom Yannucci (Kirkland & Ellis).