I had an interesting question posed to me recently; Is there a wine that pairs well with game?
Naturally, I said, “Of course!”
For all of you hunters out there who spend time tracking, hunting, field dressing and ultimately cooking your game to perfection — the good news is, you can sit back and enjoy your feast with a perfectly paired wine. The role of wine is to enhance the food. Having grown up in a family of hunters, I experienced deer, duck, rabbit, squirrel, turkey and a whole host of different types of game. And I did not like it. At all. However, as I’ve grown older, my taste buds have changed, evolved, matured, and my outlook has significantly changed with the inclusion of wine.
Wines have inherent tasting profiles, usually described by fruit, earth and wood (FEW). These profiles help to determine food and wine pairings.
Fruit — This is fairly straight forward. Red wines generally have red, black, or blue fruits. For example: cherry, cranberry, raspberry, black currant, blackberry, blueberry. Whites are more apt to have flavor profiles which include apple, lime, pear, pineapple, peach, melon, lemon and nectarine, to name a few.
Earth — Organic and inorganic aromas and tastes are included in this category. Herbs, minerals, coffee, chocolate, tobacco, leather are just some of the descriptors.
Wood — A wine may or may not have wood on the nose or the taste. This depends whether it was aged in oak barrels and for how long. Some wines are aged in stainless steel or concrete eggs, so there is no evidence of oak or wood at all.
When pairing food with game, or anything really, the FEW rule helps to determine what wine works best. Which brings us to wines that have flavor profiles best suited for game, which might include; smoke, leather, blood, meat, minerals, jam, tar, tobacco, bacon, as well as blackberry, cherries, cedar, plums, herbs and vanilla. Although it may sound weird to experience a wine with some of these flavor profiles, generally they are very subtle and make them quite enjoyable.
As deer season has just drawn to a close, you have bagged your limit, and the meat is patiently or perhaps impatiently waiting for you to work your magic. Deer chili and deer jerky are wonderful ways to enjoy venison. Dredging a cut in flour and frying it is also delicious. According to my cousin, LB, the “head” hunter of the family, the best way to prepare venison is as follows:
Take the back strap, soak in milk to mellow the pronounced gameyness, wrap it in bacon, cut slits in it and stuff with garlic cloves, spice as you like, (suggestions include soy sauce, pepper, cumin, salt, rosemary — any or all of these), cover with apricot jam, then bake, broil or grill to your preferred level of doneness. Delectable!
Once it is ready, or while it is cooking, open a bottle of Syrah. Complimentary to the venison with flavors of smoke, herbs, spice and meat, it is slightly more acidic than a Cabernet, which helps to bring balance. Syrah, also know as Shiraz in Australia, is one of the best pairings for game, smoked, roasted and barbecued meats.
Another equally appropriate suggestion is Grenache. It is produced in the U.S., France, Australia and Spain, where it is known as Garnacha. It is similar to Syrah, yet distinct. Grenache is an excellent pairing for duck, one of my family’s favorite treats around this time of year. Duck doesn’t take much in the way of preparation. If you aren’t a duck hunter or were off your mark, duck can readily found in the supermarket near the turkey and chicken, and many prefer the taste of the domestic over the wild bird.
Smoked or roast duck.
Clean the bird, rinse well and pat completely dry.
For smoked: Once clean and dry, truss the bird, wrap in bacon. Place breast side up and smoke until internal temperature reaches between 160-165 degrees.
For roasted: Once clean and dry, pierce the skin all over, salt all over including inside the cavity. Truss and place breast down on a roasting rack with roasting pan underneath. Place in a 250 degree pre-heated oven. Cook for 3 hours, piercing skin again about once an hour. Remove and turn the temperature up to 350 degrees. Place breast side up in another pan, reserving the drippings for gravy. Cook at 350 degrees for another 45 minutes. Remove from oven and allow it to rest for about 10 minutes.
Grenache/Garnacha is luscious, velvety, rich but also bold and powerful. Beef, duck, lamb, game and sausages — such strong foods are enhanced with a such a wine. Grenache is often blended with Syrah along with Mouvedre for a luscious (blended) wine, known as GSM. Notable examples would be Cotes du Rhone or Chateauneuf Du Pape.
During these winter months, while feasting on rich game and soul-warming heavier dishes, experiment with a Grenache, Syrah or a GSM blend. These wines have balance and finesse along with enough power to stand up to what’s on your table.
— In the year ahead, may we treat our friends with kindness and our enemies with generosity. Cheers!