Getting in the game
DRINK:AS I WRITE, the cold weather has arrived. The heating has been switched on and gardening seems less appealing. Despite this, I love autumn; as in spring, the quality of light is wonderful. Fruits are reaching ripeness and all over Europe the serious business of winemaking has begun.
It is time to bring out the casserole, buy root vegetables and look out for more muscular red wines. Come September, a wonderful assortment of game starts to arrive in our shops. Gone are the days when you needed to know a member of the landed gentry or a wealthy farmer to gain access to the wild animals that roam our countryside; nowadays many delicatessens and butchers offer a very decent range, as do some of the more enterprising supermarkets.
For wine-lovers this presents an opportunity to crack open something decent, as game makes a perfect backdrop for many of the best red wines. The biggest problem could well be the sauce or accompaniments. The habit of serving something sweet, usually fruit-based, may work well with the game, but less so with the wine.
Bigger, riper wines from warmer climates such as Australia are better able to handle these flavours. However, if you are looking for an excuse to open a bottle of something really special, there are few things better with fine wine than a plainly roasted bird, such as partridge or pheasant, served simply on its own.
If that looks a bit too Spartan, a few roasted root vegetables with a sauce based on stock and wine, rather than vinegar or fruit, will help rather than hinder a wine.
As an aside, I met a sommelier recently who swore that celeriac is one of the finest vegetables to serve with wine, smoothing tannins and livening fruit. I have yet to try it out, but would be interested to hear from anyone who has. Pinot noir, and mature Burgundy in particular, is a personal favourite with game, but any well aged mature red should be fine.
Venison is the most richly flavoured game meat, so a big-scale red is called for here. A Barossa shiraz or grenache, a full-bodied malbec from Argentina, or a big red from Spain, or a Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Hermitage from France. Alternatively, mallard, teal and pigeon have plenty of flavour, so something fairly robust will work well. I would tend to go for something European, such as a Bordeaux, Northern Rhone, Barolo or Chianti Classico.
Just about every European country that produces wine has a few options, as most treat game as an everyday food. Older birds should be casseroled, and can be equally good, usually offering a little more in terms of flavour. Cook them in red or white wine. With a casserole, if you can afford it, I would go for a red Burgundy, a Pomerol, a Grand Cru St Emilion, or a bigger wine from the Rhone Valley.