With Great British Game Week now in full flow and temperatures finally starting to head south, it’s an ideal time to make the most of the best seasonal ingredients available to us. In addition to root veg, orchard fruits and wild mushrooms, the list wouldn’t be complete without game.
What do we mean by game?
When we talk about game, we’re mostly referring to grouse, partridge, pheasant, wild duck, rabbit, hare and deer (venison), but of course there are other species too. It’s just that these are the most easily available.
Whilst it’s easy to overlook game in favour of the more ubiquitous meats; beef, lamb, pork, chicken and so on, which are available all year round, game actually offers a healthier, leaner alternative that’s just as tasty. If not more so, and it doesn’t necessarily cost more than domestic-farmed meats either.
It’s a matter of taste
One of the consistent themes with game is that the flavours tend to be more distinctive, richer and more intense than most of the farmed meats with which we’re familiar, with the possible exception of lamb.
When it comes to wine pairing, the general principle is to try and match the strength and richness of the wine to the strength and richness of the dish. Essentially, you don’t want one to overpower the other.
How to choose the right wines to pair with game
With that in mind, we’ll be needing wines with stronger, more punctuated flavours and with greater texture and/or weight on the palate.
For white wines, this might mean those that are oak-aged or that have higher than average alcohol (over 13%). Grape varieties like Chardonnay, Viognier, Roussanne, Pinot Gris, Dry Riesling or wines from Alsace, Burgundy, the Jura, the Rhône Valley, Languedoc-Roussillon, Lugana and Rioja are all worth exploring.
As far as reds go, we want full-flavoured but lighter-weight versions with some of the more delicately-flavoured game like duck and partridge. Grapes like Pinot Noir (Burgundy) and Gamay (Beaujolais) work particularly well here.
More intensely-flavoured game (so pheasant, hare and venison), will need something more robust, more structured and more tannic like Syrah/Shiraz, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Mourvèdre and Carménère.
Additionally, wines from the Rhône Valley, Bordeaux, Languedoc-Roussillon, Barolo, Barbaresco, Rioja, Priorat, Ribera del Duero, Tuscany and Amarone are also ideal. Don’t forget New World versions of Rhône and Bordeaux blends either as these often offer great value.
3 delicious game recipes paired with 3 fantastic wines
This week, I’ve selected three game recipes which are absolutely delicious and easy to prepare. I’ve also selected a wine for each dish that pairs brilliantly and all three are priced under £13.
Pheasant Makhani & Sherwood Estate, Stoney Range Pinot Gris
Believe it or not, pheasant has featured in Indian cuisine since the rule of the Mughal emperors who used to hunt the birds and cook them whilst on the move. There are numerous species of pheasant across the continent and as you’d expect, there are no shortage of recipes that showcase this delicious meat.
Think of this recipe by the Urban Rajah as a kind of Butter Pheasant with an emphasis on creaminess, rich flavours and carefully-infused spices. This Pheasant Makhani needs an equally richly-flavoured wine with plenty of weight, which the Sherwood Stoney Range Pinot Gris delivers in spades.
A small component (10%) of the wine spends 4 months in barrel which adds textural weight and a touch of spice, while the finish is just off-dry. This touch of residual sweetness is a perfect foil for the warming spices in the curry and ensures the lingering flavours are not just from the food.
Spanish-Style Partridge Stew & Luis Cañas Rioja Blanco Viñas Viejas
If you’re a fan of one-pot cooking, this Mediterranean stew from The Game Chef (aka Tom Godber-Ford Moore) is first class. The Spaniards are world famous for their culinary prowess and meat and fish always feature heavily in their cooking, which naturally includes game.
A smoky, tomato-based dish with the rich meatiness of chorizo and partridge breasts adding spice and texture respectively, we’ve paired this Spanish-Style Partridge Stew with a delicious native white wine. From the heart of Rioja Alavesa comes the outstanding Luis Cañas Blanco Viñas Viejas (old vines).
90% of the wine is made from Viura coming off 60-year-old vines. Yields are naturally low and flavour concentration is therefore high. The remaining 10% of the blend is made up with Malvasia from equally-aged vines adding a floral accent.
After strict hand sorting, both varieties are fermented in new French oak barrels before being aged in new French and American oak for just 5 months with regular stirring of the lees, which imparts richness and creaminess to the final wine. The oak is seamlessly integrated and adds yet another dimension to the pairing.
Venison Tagliatelle Ragu & Château La Tessonnière, Cru Artisan
There are no shortage of recipes that advocate the benefits of slow-cooking and this Italian-inspired dish by Eat Wild, the consumer-facing site for the British Game Alliance (www.eatwild.co), is sensational. Venison is a strong-flavoured meat that’s leaner than beef and therefore when it’s minced, it’s easy to cook into a wide variety of classic dishes.
While the number of ingredients in this Venison Tagliatelle Ragu are relatively few, the secret to the dish’s rich and intense flavours comes from the longer cooking time. This allows the sauce to reduce down and the meat to fully tenderise. Big flavours mean a more expressive red is needed and one with the right structure too.
The Château La Tessonnière, Cru Artisan more than delivers on this promise. A 5th generation, sustainably certified, family estate just to the north-west of the commune of Saint-Estèphe, this ‘left-bank’ Bordeaux is made up of Merlot (52%), Cabernet Sauvignon (46%) and Cabernet Franc (2%).
Bottled without fining, this lively wine dances across the palate while displaying ripe blackcurrant and raspberry fruits, supple tannins and the faintest hint of spice at the finish.
For more useful information on where to buy BGA (British Game Alliance) assured meat, check out this list of stockists.
If you have your own recipe and are looking for suitable wines to match, please get in touch and I’ll be glad to help.