On the understanding that you’d probably feel short-changed if I said a wine tasted ‘winey’, I knew I couldn’t fob you off with the old chestnut that game tastes ‘gamey’. So, nursing my ‘thesaurus thumb’, I can offer you ‘wild, earthy, feral and pungent’.
‘Gaminess’ is the upshot of an active life with a natural diet of grasses, berries, grains and insects, which sure beats a battery hen’s smorgasbord of antimicrobials and synthetic growth hormones.
It’s the flavour of healthy diet and exercise, giving a whole new meaning to ‘Happy Meal’.
Game is also the expensive taste of fine tweeds and exclusive shooting parties, hence a tendency to reach for the big guns when choosing wine.
Find out about the key taste areas of wine
Pairing game with wine
The most common advice on this subject or pairing game with wine is to serve ‘the best red you can afford’ – about as useful as ‘the longest piece of string’. The best advice, as ever, is to match the wine with the weight of the dish and the sauce. Thus, if you’re eating young game birds simply roasted and served with a light gravy (or jus if you’re using the best crockery) go for a soft, medium-bodied, full-flavoured red such as Burgundy, made from Pinot Noir.
Classic French reds, softened and mellowed with age, are a sympathetic accompaniment to ‘plain’ roasted meats. Think Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot), or northern Rhône (Syrah), such as Côte-Rôtie or Hermitage, preferably with a little age.
With maturity, primary fruit flavours develop into secondary characteristics like cedar wood, leather and, yes, even game. For more oomph, but less money, Francophiles could head to the Languedoc for powerful, herb-scented Fitou and sturdy St. Chinian, or to the southern Rhône for Châteauneuf-du-Pape, all of which are ‘GSM’ blends (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre).
The savoury quality, as opposed to overt fruitiness, of many Italian reds is ideal with game. If you’re hanging the duck and the expense, go for a strapping Barolo or Barbaresco, both made from the Nebbiolo grape. Good Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino, both made primarily from the Sangiovese grape, are less expensive and rarely disappoint with game.
Game with a fruit sauce
For game served with fruit sauces and compotes reach for young, fruit-driven reds like Chilean Merlot, Australian Shiraz (aka Syrah), Argentinian Malbec, spicy Californian Zinfandel, South African Pinotage or a Beaujolais Cru to match the sweetness.
White wine and game
And, shock horror, the wine served with game doesn’t even have to be red. Pheasant served with apples, as in pheasant Normande, works very well with dry Pinot Gris or off-dry Riesling.
And full-bodied Champagne, preferably a Blanc de Noirs made from red grapes (Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier), is a classic match with cold game pie. If elderflower tastes of hedgerows and summer, then game tastes of fallen leaves and autumn; and it’s precisely the vanishing concept of seasonality that makes game special. The very thought of being paired with cheap plonk would turn any grouse, not wild, but livid.