Editor’s note: Marissa is back for wine Wednesday and this time she has something that will really impress at your next dinner party. There’s nothing quite like serving the fruits of your own hunt, and you definitely want your dish to shine. In order to do just that Marissa is here to teach us all about pairing wine with game meats, and it is for sure one you’re going to want to bookmark.
Pairing Wine with Game Meats:
A fun fact about me: I have a list of 40 things I want to accomplish by the time I turn 40. When I made the list 3 years ago, the first thing I wrote down was to become a sommelier. Check! One of the other items that made the list – “Go on a wild boar hunt with Georgia”. I’m quite obsessed with the idea of making my own wild boar prosciutto and wild boar ragu. (GP took my hunting virginity for pheasant in 2013 on one of her Adventure Getaways, so there’s no one else I’d rather guide me on the quest for my own boar.)
And I know that so many of you dear readers (pun intended) also trust Georgia for her amazing girl hunter savvy and delicious wild game recipes. So, it’s fitting that I help ensure you’re pairing these delicious meals with the right wine. Wine not only pairs well with game meats, it will also enhance the flavors beautifully if done right.
As I was writing this post, I called Whole Foods on the Upper East Side near my office to ask if they sell venison. The butcher – I’m not kidding – said: “venison, what’s that?” Oy. Thankfully, I found a great butcher in my Brooklyn neighborhood who carries it. Anyway, I know that Georgia’s readers are really into venison, so I’ll spend some time on this pairing.
Venison is a red meat, but is leaner, and has a sweeter, earthier flavor than beef. It has the “gamey” profile of lamb, and like lamb lends itself beautifully to spices like cloves, cinnamon, rosemary, cumin, etc. So you want to find a wine that also has those spicy, warm notes as well.
If you’re making a venison loin, like this awesome recipe, I’d suggest a full-bodied, spicy wine. Shiraz or Syrah (same grape, just from different countries) would be great. If you tend to like voluptuous wines, I’d steer you to bottle from the Hunter Valley or Barossa Valley, both hot climate regions in Australia known for excellent Shiraz. You’ll get a wine that’s fruit-forward, with dark blueberries and blackberries on the nose and palate, and warm peppery tones, even a bit of dark chocolate. If you’re into something with more Old-World finesse, I suggest a sexy bottle from the Northern Rhone in France – Cote Rotie, St. Joseph, and Croze-Hermitage are all great appellations. This wine is still made from Syrah, but the climate is cooler, so the wine will be a bit lighter with more grippy tannins, and notes of meat, leather, pepper and dark berries. You could also try a bottle from a Southern Rhone appellation like a Vacqueyras or Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which will be Syrah blended with Grenache (and possibly other grapes), and full of black fruits, leather, black pepper, olives, rosemary, and smoke. Well, HELLO Lover!
I decided to make Georgia’s curry venison stew on Friday night. It’s been bitter cold here in NYC so this dish was the perfect fit. Now, down to the wine. I wanted a fruit-forward wine since I was using curry spices and something that would pair well with the creaminess of the coconut milk. This dish also has sweetness from the butternut squash and cinnamon (see, venison and spices are bffs). I splurged and opened two bottles, so I could experiment with both a white and a red wine. First, the white, a Viognier from Two Shepherds Wines in California. I met the winemaker, William, at the Raw Wine Fair in November and I think he and his wife are making pretty spectacular and exciting natural wines. This Viognier is alive in the glass, with strong notes of Anjou pear, red apple, peaches, and white flowers. YUM. A Viognier is a good choice for this pairing because it’s a fuller bodied white, and very aromatic. It can stand up to the venison but was definitely the right call to balance the spiciness of the curry. The red wine was Agharta’s Red Label Blend — 97% Syrah and 3% Viognier. (Purchased from one of my wine obsessions www.garagiste.com.) It was a 2007 vintage, which I was pretty jazzed to try, and this wine did not disappoint. I decanted it, which helped it open up. My glass was full of dark dried cherries, blackberry jam, green olives, smoke, and dark chocolate. Seriously sexy wine. I so enjoyed this bottle and while it was an okay pairing with the stew, I felt that it would have been better suited to the other venison recipe I mentioned above. That’s part of the fun of wine pairing — discovering what works for you and what doesn’t. So, when you’re enjoying this curry stew, I’d steer you to a Viognier, or an off-dry Riesling.
Duck is also a red meat, but with a higher fat content so it is more buttery and luscious. It’s incredibly flavorful and gamey, often served rare, and pairs so well with sweet flavors — orange, raspberry, cherry, balsamic glaze, etc. With a duck breast, I’d pair a bottle of Pinot Noir, specifically from Burgundy.
Burgundian Pinot Noir will have a medium to high acid profile to help balance the richness of the duck and has an earthy, forest floor, mushroom-y gamey quality to it. Pinots have red fruit characteristics, so you’ll find those lovely red cherries, ripe red raspberries, and red plums dancing around in your mouth too. Such a great compliment to the duck. Personally, I think that Pinot goes spectacularly well with duck confit too, and who doesn’t want some duck confit and frites at this time of year?
You could also absolutely pair a white wine with duck, but make sure you go with something fuller bodied or with a bit of spice. Choose between a Gewürztraminer — ripe with ginger, lychee, roses and sweet baking spices — or a moderate to warm climate Chardonnay. I think a New World Chardonnay would work best — you want some of those white peach, melon, and even tropical fruit flavors to pair with the juiciness of the duck. Pick a bottle from the Russian River Valley in California or for a great value, check out a Chardonnay from Chile (especially the Maule Valley or Casablanca Valley). Georgia recently did a roundup of her favorite duck recipes to try this season. Let us know how your pairing goes!
Wild boar is like the love child of beef and pork. It has the leanness of pork but with the juiciness of beef. The flavors tend to be more dynamic than regular pork because of the hog’s diet. All that foraging for fruits and nuts yields meat that is also nutty and sweet. Maybe I’m a bit biased because I have my fantasy wild boar prosciutto on the brain, but I can’t help but pair Italian wines with boar.
One of Italy’s most famous grapes is Sangiovese, which you’ll find in the great Tuscan wines of Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino. With aromas of red cherries and plums and savory dried herbs, you can’t go wrong with a Chianti Classico. Chianti Classico is a separate sub-zone of Chianti and since it’s at a slightly higher altitude, the acidity is higher and there are more herbal aromas. If you travel a bit more south through Tuscany, you’ll hit Brunello di Montalcino. Because it’s warmer, the wine will generally be fuller bodied and more intense than Chianti. Brunello is 100% Sangiovese and must be aged for at least 5 years before it is released. It tends to be a more expensive wine, but if you want to indulge a little you won’t be disappointed. One other wine I’m kind of ga-ga for these days is Dolcetto, which is grown in northern Italy. It’s reasonably priced, and it’s a really food-friendly wine. Italians like to say it’s the wine they drink while waiting for their Barolo to age. Dolcetto is dark purple with medium to high tannin and medium acid and has those same yummy black plum, red cherry and herb aromas.
Any of these wines would pair great with Georgia’s famous wild boar meatballs, which she made for Jimmy Kimmel on his show a few years ago. I’m drooling just thinking about them!
Quail is similar to chicken, but its smaller size makes for a more delicate and gamey flavor (but not nearly as assertive as duck). You typically eat them younger than chickens, and the meat is more tender, kind of like a dark meat chicken. This means you can go in many different directions with wine pairing, but you really want to be careful not to match quail with anything that will overpower it.
That’s why am itching to make this crispy seared quail recipe from Georgia’s blog — it lets the bird shine. In writing this post, I’ve gone back to look at it about 15 times and already started planning a quail dinner party in my head. (Yes, I will craft an entire dinner party around one recipe that excites me. Or a wine that excites me. Or both…) My senses tell me that a Chardonnay is also the right choice for this recipe but from a cooler climate. I’d go back to Burgundy – this time to the Cote d’ Beaune. Now before you tell me you don’t like Chardonnay because it tastes like buttered popcorn sprinkled with toasted oat flakes, hear me out: they aren’t all super oaky or buttery like the wines our parents drank in the 80s and 90s! Burgundian Chardonnay is usually more restrained and because French oak imparts softer, baking spice aromas and flavors, you get more of the vanilla, cinnamon, almond or brioche on the nose and palate than say, one from Napa.
If you’d prefer a red wine, I suggest a Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo makes a really elegant wine, and quail is an elegant bird. This lightly colored red wine has pretty structured tannins and acid, with a soft aroma of roses and red fruit which would be so lovely with the buttery aspects of the quail, but won’t overpower it. There are some fab Nebbiolos coming out of the US right now (recently tried this one from Virginia that is stellar!) but the real home of Nebbiolo is Italy, specifically Piedmont in the north. Barolo is made from Nebbiolo, but if you don’t want to splurge on a bottle, you can get a Langhe Nebbiolo for a very reasonable price. You could also get a Barbaresco, which is also very close to Barolo but doesn’t need to be aged as long and has fewer tannins.
As with all wine pairing, it should be fun and not stressful. What’s the worst that can happen? If it doesn’t pair perfectly, just drink it without food. ???? Heh heh.
Marissa’s Wine Shopping List Samples:
Shiraz — Barossa Valley
Pinot Noir — Burgundy
Game Meat Purveyors:
https://www.brokenarrowranch.com/ — Georgia loves this place!
http://www.dartagnan.com — Can’t go wrong with a gold standard.
http://www.lospaisanosmeatmarket.com/ — If you’re in NYC or Brooklyn, these guys will hook you up! They ordered venison stew meat for me after my Whole Foods debacle.