As winter comes ever closer we are leaving behind summer barbecue and picnic food in favour of heartier fare. Our thoughts are turning to rich meats and rustic vegetables to keep us warm through the chilly days and nights.
Game meats and poultry are particularly popular at this time of year with produce such as venison; pheasant and wild duck all being in season. There are a host of wonderful recipes available to make the most of these delicious ingredients but what should you drink with them to bring out the best flavour?
The rich flavours of game meats and poultry cry out for red wine. Many recipes feature red wine as one of the accompanying ingredients and drinking the correct red wine style with a game dish should be a sensational experience. Combining the rich and hearty flavours of game with the spicy and fruity characteristics of red wine should result in the taste of autumn.
Venison is an earthy meat with bags of flavour. Its texture is dense and low in fat. This intense and unusual flavour can make it difficult to find a perfect red wine match but Pinot Noir is the closest. Most red wines clash unpleasantly with the flavour of simple roast venison or venison steaks. Even though it’s not perfect a mature Burgundy, Pinot Noir makes an enjoyable accompaniment. New World Pinot Noirs are not quite so good but are still pleasant with plain venison. Southern Rhone red wines such as Cotes du Rhone or Cotes du Ventoux just about pass muster.
However, add a sauce or a marinade to venison and a whole host of other red wines become worth considering. Big, savoury reds made from grapes such as Syrah/Shiraz, Zinfandel or Nebbiolo are able to come into play as good partners and the match with Pinot Noir improves too. A casserole or stew with venison as the main ingredient is likely to include red wine which makes the venison much more red wine friendly. A typical casserole recipe including ingredients such as garlic, onion, celery, carrot and herbs as well as red wine and perhaps with bacon and caramelized onions makes a perfect match with a Cotes du Rhone Syrah. Northern Rhone Syrahs are less good but Syrah from the south of France is usually enjoyable with a venison casserole. Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet-Shiraz blends from New World countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and the USA are also good as is a mature ripe red Bordeaux. The big flavours of Zinfandel stand up well to venison in a red wine sauce and Dolcetto from Italy is also an enjoyable partner. Pinot Noir, as long as it is not too tannic, remains a good match with venison when marinated and cooked in a sauce.
Pheasant is a popular game bird to eat in the autumn and it is another red wine friendly food. The flavours of pheasant when simply roasted make a stunning match with one style of Pinot Noir – that produced in the Oregon region of the USA where the red wine is light and savoury. Pinot Noirs from Burgundy, even when light and low in tannin, are nowhere near as good. Another great match with roast pheasant is Crozes-Hermitage and other low tannin reds from Bordeaux, Cotes du Rhone, Beaujolais-Villages and Chianti are also pleasant partners. A young red Rioja is another option although it struggles to cope with the flavour if the pheasant is very high.
If the pheasant is cooked in a casserole with red wine, onion and garlic the only perfect match comes with Rhone reds, especially Crozes-Hermitage. Other options which are good if not perfect accompaniments include Beaujolais Crus, Chianti Classico, Barbaresco and Pinot Noir from Oregon. If the pheasant isn’t too high try a red Rioja or a Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile or Australia.
Wild duck is another game bird in season through the autumn. Its flavours are much more gamey than domestic duck – its meat is richer and darker and the flavours are more intense. This means it can be partnered with bigger and more flavourful red wines. Mallard is probably the most popular breed of wild duck and its perfect red wine matches are fruity and not too tannic. Once again, Crozes-Hermitage is an excellent partner, as is another northern Rhone red wine, St-Joseph. If you can’t find those, then a fruity Australian Shiraz or Shiraz Cabernet is an enjoyable match. From elsewhere in France, some southern Rhone and Provencal red wines make reasonable accompaniments. Italian red wines such as Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montelcino and other Sangiovese styles are good as are reds made from the Nebbiolo grape as long as the wines are not too tannic. The other red wine worth drinking with wild duck is a rich Zinfandel.
Image by gruntzooki.