Berry Bros. & Rudd, Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchants, offer their expert advice on the perfect bottle to complement the rewards from your latest shoot.
Sourcing the ideal wine to pair with the spoils from a day’s shoot is nothing short of a challenge. It’s not just the diversity of birds and beasts that needs to be taken into consideration but the multitudinous means of cooking them – not to mention one’s personal preference as to how long your meat is hung. The myriad options can be overwhelming, thus we hope the following guide, if nothing else, ensures you avoid the potential pitfalls.
Matching wine and food often depends on finding an equilibrium between the two, although that’s not to say that contrasting flavours can’t also work tremendously well. If the flavours are at opposite ends of the spectrum, it is crucial that one doesn’t overwhelm the other.
It’s also important to distinguish body from flavour: for instance, a full-bodied white Burgundy is lightly flavoured, whereas a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is both full-flavoured and light-bodied. In a classic pairing of Roquefort and Sauternes, say, the saltiness of the cheese is in direct contrast to the moreish sweetness of the wine, but the strength of flavour in both is balanced. Hence rich or “high” game will call for stronger, full-flavoured wines. The fattier the bird or beast, the more tannic a wine it can handle and, of course, vice versa.
When serving game in a sauce or dressing, the strongest flavour in the dish should be the one that is matched to the wine – eg partnering the sweetness of balsamic vinegar with a fruity Beaujolais Cru or Australian Merlot.
Grouse is a full-flavoured bird that can cope with a full-flavoured red wine. As with all poultry you need to be aware of tannin and opt for wines that aren’t heavily tannic. The perfect choice with roast grouse is either a red from the Northern Rhône or a top-class mature red Burgundy.
Roast partridge can easily be overpowered by a tannic wine. Syrah is thus the ideal variety to seek out for this particular bird, although the optimum match would be a not-too-full-bodied version such as a Vin de Pays. That said, the classic French dish Perdrix aux Choux (lit. ‘braised partridge with cabbage’), which is flavoured with juniper and the aforementioned cabbage, will also pair well with white wines. In this instance try an unoaked Chardonnay or a white Rhône.
Another classic French game dish is Faisan à la Normande (or Normandy-style pheasant), a recipe prepared with apples and cream. Whites work wonders here, especially a dry Pinot Gris, as this aromatic variety will complement the sweetness of the apples in the mix. Roast pheasant partners very well with light, fruity varieties such as Pinot Noir, especially those from North America or New Zealand.
Roast wood pigeon relishes mature but full-flavoured reds such as Claret or Rioja. Pigeon breasts served warm with a green leaf salad meanwhile will benefit from wines that complement the salad dressing rather than the bird. Otherwise, as is true of all casseroles, if a wine has been used in the dish itself, always drink the same wine. For wood pigeon casserole – which is not all that dissimilar to coq au vin – fruity reds such as North American Pinot Noir or ‘bigger’ Australian Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz work well.
Wild duck such as mallard has far more flavour than its domestic cousins, thus it correspondingly requires a more flavoursome wine to match. A red from Northern Rhône would be the perfect solution here, as would an Australian Shiraz.
Venison has a rich, gamey flavour yet is very lean, which can make it fiendishly hard to match, but Pinot Noir is best placed to cope with its structure. Roast venison does not like too much tannin, so seek out a mature red Burgundy to go with it – although Pinot Noirs from New Zealand, Australia and North America make for worthy alternatives. (If Pinot Noir is not to your liking, a suitable substitute here might be a Côtes du Rhône.) A casserole widens your choice of wine: when cooked in red wine with herbs, onions and pot-vegetables you can opt for more full-bodied fare such as a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend, or even a Zinfandel.
Hare is another dark, gamey meat which is hard to match when served without a sauce. Fortunately it is most likely to be served in the ‘jugged’ style, with which a rich Amarone goes very well. For a lighter style of wine, look no further than a Côtes du Rhône, which is also well-suited to hare casseroles or stews cooked with the usual red wine, onions and herbs; other wines to consider for such a comforting plate of food are a North American Merlot or even a very fruity Beaujolais Cru.
Wild boar is similar to pork in nature, albeit more strongly flavoured. For reds you will again need to avoid too much tannin so a Beaujolais Cru would provide the requisite balance in this instance, equally so a light Pinot Noir; for white wines meanwhile, look to the Southern Rhône.