As I stroll through the racks in my game freezers, deciding whether to have a elk roast, venison steaks, or bear rump this weekend, I also reflected my wine cellar choices. I seem to always try something different with wild game, and depending on how I prepare it, oven, smoker or grilled, I usually am happy. But then I got to thinking that most people out there don’t have freezers of wild game, Alaskan Halibut and Silver Salmon.
In most parts of the U.S. and yes the world, there are butcher stores and yes, even some grocery chains that will carry game, or at least buffalo. And in areas where game hunting is a way of life, like here in the Pacific Northwest, if you aren’t a hunter, you know one. So I decided to post this article on wine and game. Hope you enjoy.
There are opinions, advice, and books galore of what wines to pair with different meets and meals, however when it comes to hunter and wine enthusiast out there, not so much really. In this article we will investigate and open the eye of the “Big Game Hunter and Huntress” out there, assisting you in your choices when pairing wines to game. After all, we know that a great wine cannot only enhance meat during the cooking process, but also when sipped with a mouthful.
The first choice of game we will look at is the wild boar, which is similar to pork, but can be gamey, and less fatty. Although boar meet can be cooked in an oven, the most common way to prepare is slowly in a smoker oven. The finished product is tender, sweet with an intense flavor, which calls for bold, more complex wines, with heavy spice such as a Syrah or maybe Penfold 2010 Shiraz, or a husky Cabernet Sauvignon. These dark and flavorful wines exhibit that rich spicy nose and palate, which will complement that, roasted or smoked wild boar. Another fine choice for this pairing, if you can acquire it, would be a bottle or two of Tempranillo, from the Spanish grape. Abacela Winery in Southern Oregon was the first producer of this great wine in Oregon, and would be an excellent choice.
Next lets look at venison, harvested throughout the North American Continent every fall, and gracing many a table every fall and throughout the year. Venison is one of those meats that can be cooked in a number of ways, thus pairing with wine should be determined by the preparation itself. For most of us wine sippers, it is a good red wine that will complement the slightly gamey meat, but again that is based on your taste. You may decide to cook with a white wine such as a Riesling, and that could be your wine of choice. Others prefer dark tannin Cabernet Sauvignon, possibly a Zinfandel, although I believe this to be a little over powerful. To please most palates, red is the most common of color to grace the venison table, and a good complex Pinot Noir might fill the bill here. Today you will find that many of the country restaurants, and some fine ones, have a spectacular Pinot Noir paired with their Loin of Venison. Recently at a private wine tasting, I had the opportunity to taste Willamette Valley Oregon, Domaine Drouhin’s 2010 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. I now have a few bottles in my wine cellar, and will bring this wine out to serve with my venison on Thanksgiving Day.
There are two sources of wild game that the North American Indian tribes have always valued and appreciated, and still do today, the buffalo and the moose. The moose is very much like beef however is lower in fat also like the buffalo. Depending on your cut of moose, you may want to pop the cork from a good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon with heavy tannin, or maybe a California Zinfandel. More and more moose lovers are pairing and enjoying Oregon Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley with their steaks these days. Now if you are preparing a hearty winter beef stew, with lots of spices, may I suggest dumping some serious Syrah in the pot, and again in your glass? One Syrah that stands out in the memory section of my palate is a British Columbia Syrah, produced by Stag’s Hollow Winery in the Okanagan Valley. This Syrah is just what the cook ordered, deep purple, heavy berry, with some smokiness and spices in the backend. The tannins incorporated will bring out flavors in your moose, and bring out the “Mounties” with your screams of passion over this dish. The added plus to this wine is it will set you back no more than $35.
Now for the buffalo, raised on ranches where they are semi-domestic, and not as gamey as they used to be on the prairie. I’m sure that the first thought to hit your taste buds, would be the heavy California Cabernet Sauvignon, and you could be right. I would be so inclined to open a bottle from the wine cellar without giving much thought. However, again depending on how you are preparing this buffalo, although the color red works well, a well chosen spicy Syrah or Zinfandel might work splendidly also. Again a good dark seriously heavy fruit Pinot Noir from Burgundy or California would work quite well here too in fact. In my opinion, Oregon Pinot Noirs are produced lighter and in a class of its own, and not easily paired with this type of games reed meat, whereby the California Pinot Noir is almost Syrah or Zinfandel like in its presentation. I realize that a few “noses” will turn up to that comment, but IMO, and that of others, this is the true, not in every case but many.
Now lets say you have had the luck of the draw, and have brought home to the freezer some Mountain Sheep cuts and want to serve them up with an appropriate wine that enhances the flavor. You would go the way of pairing that you would with lamb, red, be it Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel or even a serious Merlot. If the budget and supply will allow, I say go for really great Cru French Bordeaux. Figuring a guided successful Mountain Ram Hunt can run upwards to $20,000, a bottle of ’09 Chateau LaFite Rothschild for $1,800 might be in order. However, maybe a ’09 Chateau Monbousquet from St-Emillon might be just fine, and only put you out about $50.