Monday, 6th of November, is the start of Great British Game Week. According to the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, game has a lower carbon footprint than most mass-produced meats, and the game industry is essential to the management and maintenance of countryside environments.
William Sitwell, restaurant critic, broadcaster and author, said: “Cooking with and eating game isn’t just a sensible, sustainable and natural way of life, it’s a delicious, exciting approach to food with endless and wonderful possibilities.”
I couldn’t agree more!
The majority of game meat is sold locally to the area in which it is produced, landing a big tick in the minimal food miles box, and, as it’s all in season right now, autumn and winter could be filled with tasty treats.
Exploring the world of game meats is like embarking on a thrilling culinary adventure. With venison, rabbit, hare, duck, grouse, pheasant, and guinea fowl on the menu, it’s a mouthwatering journey filled with unique flavours and textures. But what makes it even more exciting is discovering the perfect wine to go with your game.
So, let’s delve into the art of pairing wine with game, a delicious exploration where food and drink come together to create truly memorable dining experiences.
We’ll start with the big one!
Venison: Venison has gained popularity recently, for several good reasons:
Nutritional Benefits: Venison is a low-fat, high-protein meat, making it a healthy choice for those conscious of their diet. It is rich in essential nutrients like iron, zinc, and B vitamins.
Distinct Flavour: Venison has a unique, earthy flavour with a hint of gaminess. Its distinct taste sets it apart from more conventional meats like beef or pork, making it a favourite among adventurous eaters.
Versatility: Venison can be prepared in various ways, from grilling and roasting to slow-cooking in stews. Its versatility allows for a wide range of culinary creations.
Preparation: The way you cook venison can significantly affect your wine choice. Grilled or roasted venison benefits from red wines with good acidity. A Pinot Noir is an excellent choice, due to its red fruit notes and balanced acidity. Syrah or Shiraz also pairs well, providing a slightly peppery undertone that complements the gaminess.
Sauce: If you're serving venison with a rich sauce or in a stew, opt for full-bodied reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec. Their robust flavours and tannins can stand up to the boldness of the dish. However, if your venison dish incorporates berries or a fruit-based sauce, consider a fruity and slightly sweet red like Zinfandel or Merlot, as the fruitiness can harmonize with the dish's flavours.
Riedel Vinum Pinot Noir / Burgundy Glasses (Set of 4)
Rabbit and Hare: Rabbit and hare, often considered delicacies, have their own set of appealing qualities:
Lean and Tender: Leporids (a bit of Latin dredged up from the memory banks there for you!) are exceptionally lean and tender, with a delicate texture that's often compared to chicken. They are perfect for those who prefer lighter meats.
Mild Gamey Flavour: Rabbit and hare offer a mild gamey flavour, and their subtle taste makes them versatile and suitable for a variety of flavour profiles.
Sustainability: Rabbit and hare are known for their sustainability, as they reproduce rapidly and have minimal environmental impact, making them an eco-friendly protein source.
Preparation: Roasted or braised rabbit can be paired with a light to medium-bodied red wine like Pinot Noir. The wine's red fruit notes and good acidity enhance the flavours without overwhelming the dish. If you're incorporating herbs and garlic, consider a lighter, earthy red wine such as Grenache or a Chardonnay, which can provide a crisp contrast.
Stew: For rabbit or hare stews, opt for a rustic red wine like Barbera, known for its versatility and acidity, or even a lighter Syrah. Alternatively, a Chenin Blanc with its bright acidity and fruity notes can provide an interesting contrast to the dish.
Rosé: Rabbit is an excellent excuse to try an elegant rosé. The berry flavours and bright acidity will complement the delicate meat. Splash out on a premium Provence rosé or keep it local with an English sparkling rosé.
Duck: Duck meat's rich flavour and colour provides a red meat eating experience with the health benefits of poultry. Duck is rich in iron and protein, like beef, but is leaner and has fewer calories, like its poultry counterparts. Plus, duck fat is healthier with less saturated fat and more omega-3 fat than beef.
Richness and Flavour: Duck meat is prized for its rich, succulent texture and deep, flavourful taste. It offers a delightful contrast to lighter meats like chicken.
Crispy Skin: Duck skin, when properly cooked, becomes crispy and delectable, adding a delicious textural element to dishes.
Versatile: Duck can be prepared in numerous ways, from classic roast duck to duck confit, offering a range of culinary possibilities.
Duck's rich, fatty texture and deep flavours call for wines that can complement and balance its intensity.
Classic Choice: A Pinot Noir is a classic choice for duck. It balances the meat's richness with its bright red fruit notes and acidity. It enhances the flavours without overwhelming the dish. Merlot is another possibility, with plummy flavours and soft tannins that pair well with duck.
Sweet Glaze or Fruity Sauce: If your duck dish features a sweet glaze or a fruity sauce, consider a fruity red like Grenache or a Gewürztraminer, for a white wine alternative. The fruit-forward character of these wines will complement the flavours of the dish.
Grouse: Grouse is a lean, dark meat that is prized by chefs and often referred to as the 'king of game birds'. Grouse meat is rich, versatile and very healthy, as it contains less than a third of the fat of chicken.
Distinct Taste: Grouse has a slightly gamey flavour, often described as earthy and distinct. It's appreciated for its character and is probably the strongest tasting of the game birds and its unique flavour gets stronger throughout the season.
Seasonal Delicacy: Grouse is typically only available during the hunting season, (the Glorious 12th August to 10th December) making it a sought-after seasonal delicacy for those who appreciate its unique taste.
Adaptability: Grouse can be prepared in a number of ways, including roasting, grilling and frying, offering a range of options for experimentation.
Grouse pairs well with medium to full-bodied red wines:
Syrah or Shiraz: The bold flavours of a Syrah or Shiraz can complement the gaminess of grouse. These wines are known for their dark fruit notes, subtle spiciness, and structured tannins.
Cabernet Sauvignon: A Cabernet Sauvignon or a red blend with bold, structured tannins can also be a great match, especially if the grouse is prepared in a way that brings out its bold flavours.
Braised Grouse: If you're serving braised grouse, consider a white wine like Chardonnay or Viognier. The contrast in flavours between the wine and the meat can be a delightful pairing.
Pheasant: Pheasant meat has been described as tender, sublime and highly flavoured. It has something of the flavour of both poultry and venison. If feathers are left on the bird while hanging, more flavour will be obtained, as some of the oil in the feathers will be absorbed into the flesh.
Mild Gamey Flavour: Pheasant has a mild taste. The meat is white, like chicken, but has a more complex and subtle flavour.
Tender Meat: Younger birds and hens usually have the most tender meat, making them better suited for quicker cooking methods, like grilling or sautéing, while older birds and roosters usually have tougher, more flavourful meat that benefits from slow cooking methods like roasting.
Versatility: Pheasant can be prepared in various ways, much like chicken or turkey. It can be roasted, smoked, fried or cooked in a slow cooker.
Pheasant offers a delicate and slightly gamey taste, making it versatile for wine pairings:
Pinot Noir: A Pinot Noir is often a great choice to match its flavour profile. This wine's red fruit notes and good acidity can complement the subtlety of the meat.
Rich Sauce or Spices: If your pheasant dish features a rich sauce or spices, a medium-bodied red like Merlot or Malbec can be a wonderful complement. These wines can stand up to the dish's bold flavours.
Guinea Fowl: Guinea fowl tastes similar to pheasant and consists of mostly dark meat that is rich and burgundy in colour, but it does not taste gamey.
Balanced Flavour: Guinea fowl boasts a well-balanced flavour, falling between chicken and pheasant. It appeals to a wide range of palates, making it a versatile ingredient.
Tender & Lean Meat: The meat of guinea fowl is tender and juicy, making it a great choice for both casual and upscale dining. It is also an excellent, lean source of protein, making it a good nutritious choice.
Guinea fowl has a flavour profile that falls between chicken and pheasant, making it very flexible for wine pairings:
Chardonnay: For roasted or grilled guinea fowl, a Chardonnay can be an excellent choice. Its crisp acidity and fruit notes can enhance the bird's unique taste.
Light Red: A light, earthy red like Pinot Noir or Tempranillo can also be a great match, adding depth to the dish's flavours.
Riedel Vinum Cuvée Prestige Champagne Glasses (Set of 4)
In a nutshell, game meats like venison, rabbit, hare, duck, grouse, pheasant, and guinea fowl offer a world of unique flavours and culinary possibilities. When paired with the right wines, they can create a dining experience that's nothing short of extraordinary.
Game meat generally comes from wild animals that are hunted rather than raised on a farm. You might have reservations about animals that are hunted for sport or food, but they tend to live longer lives, with freedom to roam. They also tend to have a more natural diet free from hormones and steroids.
So, whether you're enjoying the lean elegance of venison or the quirkiness of hare, remember to uncork your favourite bottle, embark on a delicious adventure, and raise a toast the wild side of gastronomy.