Wine Tasting Club – Wild Wines
One of my favourite television shows right now is The Wild Chef hosted by Au Pied de Cochon’s Martin Picard. Described as a “non-conformist with a hint of rebel,” Picard – a former Tidings Maverick Chef – and sous-chef Hugue Dufour scour the Quebec countryside, cooking everything from moose, goose, partridge, and muskrat to anything that even remotely resembles a critter.
And while moose testicles or pig’s feet meatball ragout may not be high on your list of dishes to try (although they should be), wild game has become increasingly popular across the country. To a large extent, game defines Canadian cuisine. What could be more Canadian that bison, elk, moose, venison, musk ox, goose, partridge, salmon, and hare — all having roamed Canada’s waters, skies, and land for hundreds of years?
Many years ago, wild game meat was a big part of a Canadian’s diet. But as our population migrated from the country into cities, farm-raised meats like beef, pork, and chicken became dominant. Today, wild game’s popularity is driven both by the “eat local” movement as well as its health benefits. In general, game is lower in fat than beef or pork, and in some cases, even chicken. Flavour, of course, is also a major factor.
While game meats tend to be leaner than farm-raised meat, they also tend to have a richer flavour (this is also why some people do not like game). Game tends to have a natural sweetness, which is why chefs often incorporate wild berries in their dishes. And the lean quality of the meat calls for braising slowly over low heat, or grilling to not more than medium-rare to keep the meat tender.
When pairing game with wine, the same principles apply as with any food-wine match. Look to flavours, weight, and texture. With game, ripe, richly flavoured wines like Zinfandel, Amarone, and Shiraz work well, but are by no means are the only choices. The following are some of my favourites with the game meats they work well with. If you’re not the hunting kind, grab Picard’s Au Pied de Cochon cookbook and get a little wild in the comfort of your own kitchen.
Poggiobello Friulano Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC 2007, Friuli, Italy ($28)
Shows subtle aromas of apricot, mineral, and hints of lemon, with a little flintiness. Full-flavoured, fresh, and elegant, with loads of mineral, lemon peel and spice. Subtle, long and refined. Ideal with hare and birds.
FX Pichler Gruner Veltliner Federspiel Loibner Klostersatz 2005, Wachau, Austria ($36)
Powerful and rich, with intense apricot, honey, peach and spice with a creamy texture, finishing with nutty and stone fruit notes that go on and on. Great with game birds, but has enough structure to handle boar and red meats.
Black Lagoon Carignan Reserve Vin de Pays de L’Herault 2005, Languedoc, France ($19)
A deliciously cool red with mineral, berry and blueberry character. Medium-bodied and grapey with soft tannins and a racy finish. Partridge, hare or wild salmon would compliment the soft texture and lively finish.
EOS Petite Sirah Reserve 2005, Paso Robles, USA ($32)
Inky black in colour with rich, intense flavours of meaty plum, black cherry, wild berry and spice. Deliciously fruity, ripe and complex: a real mouthful that somehow tames the firm tannins. Great balance. Go for a richly flavoured match like bison, elk or moose.
Montevina Terra d’Oro Zinfandel ‘SHR Field Blend’ 2005, Amador County, USA ($42)
Blackberry flavours are spiked by black pepper, fig, plum and red cherry juicy fruit. The nose is lively with fresh hints of blueberries and rose petal. The finish is rich, spicy and edgy. A wild blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Barbera that are grown together, picked together and fermented together. Versatile enough to go with wild boar or guinea hen.
Road 13 Jackpot Syrah 2007, Okanagan ($48)
Dark like ink; huge black fruit and multi-dimensional with notes of earth and a very intriguing gamey quality and savoury meatiness. Huge, but still maintains a fresh, juicy palate. Why not moose or musk ox?
Bussola Valpolicella Classico Superiore TB DOC 2004, Veneto, Italy ($55)
Dense and concentrated, yet still fresh and balanced with aromas of prune, date, plum and figs. Full and decadent, delivering layers of ripe fruit and fine, firm, sexy tannins that give a light pull on the long, long finish. A super Valpolicella, with elegance and length that has more flavour, depth and complexity than most producers’ Amarones. You can’t go wrong with venison.
Kilikanoon Shiraz ‘Covenant’ 2004, Clare Valley, Australia ($58)
Rich, bright, and amazingly generous with cherry and plum flavours, which flow over the tongue with a velvety texture that lets the flavours penetrate beautifully. There’s a lovely touch of mineral on the finish. Think elk.
Renwood Zinfandel ‘Grandmere’ 2005, Amador County, USA ($58)
Ripe and jammy, but not overdone. Lots of ripe wild berries, lush blackberry, black cherry, and spicy pepper notes with hints of liquorice, a silky palate and a lingering finish. The perfect match with a medium-rare bison rib eye.
Next Month: More about wine and food pairing.