When I called in recently at their London HQ for a wine tasting, Marks & Spencer’s PR chief announced: “We’ve just come back from Yorkshire. We went up for the game.”
Quickly establishing that they didn’t mean football, I discovered that Marks & Spencer has launched a range of game in their top 100 or so stores, all of it sourced through a Yorkshire company. Yorkshire Game is based in Brompton-on-Swale and sales of the new M&S range are going so well that production has increased dramatically. The range includes partridge, pheasant, and a rabbit and pheasant casserole mix all sourced in Yorkshire and surrounding counties.
“We are delighted to be working with Marks & Spencer,” said Richard Townsend of Yorkshire Game. “We have been supplying a lot of top-end restaurants and pub chains, but the new M&S range will undoubtedly increase our business and employment in the region as well as making good use of game from local estates.”
Since I had already tasted through a sizeable chunk of the M&S wine range I decided that it would be a good idea to cook up some of the M&S game and match some of their wines to an assortment of recipes.
The first to the pot was a Red Leg Partridge, which I have enjoyed in restaurants but never cooked before. This small, whole bird was ready for the oven, and I found a recipe by Yorkshire chef, James Martin for a pot-roasted partridge with cider. The cider lifted the flavours in the sauce and while M&S has recommended a deep-flavoured Gaillac Rouge, Domaine de Chanade (£9.99) to accompany it, I found it too chunky and grippy. Instead I enjoyed the ripe, clear fruit of Côtes du Luberon Rouge 2011 (£7.99), made from 90 per cent Syrah and 10 per cent Grenache which has enough bright flavours, but not so much to drown out the light gamey flavours of the partridge.
The pheasant breasts were next in the line-up and I spiral-wrapped them in streaky bacon and oven-baked them with onions and mushrooms. They had a much bigger flavour than the partridge and with a red wine sauce bolstering the dish I enjoyed the spice-dusted, liquorice-backed flavours of Domaine Meynarde, Plan de Dieu Côtes du Rhône Villages 2011 (£8.99).
The following day there was one cooked but quite lonely pheasant breast left-over so I sliced it up for lunch with a salad and enjoyed a glass of Côtes du Luberon Blanc (£7.99) for its light aromatic nose followed by rounded, almost nutty tones, dusted with herbal notes on the finish.
While the venison is sourced from Ireland rather than Yorkshire it seemed churlish to ignore this part of the range, especially since I was, by now enjoying more game than I had eaten in a long time. The venison sausages with their deep, meaty spicy flavours were terrific with Ch. De Flaugergues 2009 (£9.99) from the Languedoc. Made from Grenache Noir and a splash of Syrah and Mourvèdre the positive, robust, chunky, almost savoury flavours were just perfect.
But if you don’t plan to eat game all through winter, there is plenty in the M&S range which will provide good flavours to go with everything from a salad to roast beef and Yorkshire pud.
It was good to see M&S explore the Eastern Mediterranean for some new wines and flavours From Slovenia Quercus Pinot Grigio 2011 (£8.99) offers light, green herbal notes with enough weight to accompany a fish starter. Atlantis Santorini 2011 from Greece (£10.49) is made from old local vines grown on volcanic soils, with the clean, lean lines of Assyrtiko showing through in its racy, fresh style. Pilato Malvasia Istarska 2011 (£12.49) from Croatia has a rounder style, with nutty, creamy tones and would be rather good with cheese. Eastern Med reds to note include Binyamina Merlot 2011 from Israel (£9.49) for its soft, mellow red berry fruits and long balanced finish while Ch Ksara Clos St Alphonse 2010 from the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon shows a distinct French style, with warm Mediterranean cassis fruit and spicy complexity.
Other wines that impressed me at the 145-wine tasting include the new vintage of Fiano Sannio 2011 from Campania in Italy (£7.99). Italian whites can seem a little thin and lacking individuality when tasted alongside the big flavours of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, but this Fiano is a regular favourite, precisely because it has delicacy, with herb and pear flavours and a nutty, gentle finish. Team it with antipasti, creamy pasta dishes or fish.
New on the shelves is a white Burgundy, Viré-Clessé 2011 from Maison Albert Bichot (£11.99). This is a lovely wine and while its elegant, white peach and citrus fruit with nutty background is good to drink now it will develop.
It is not often that I champion the cause of low-alcohol wines. To me these are usually half-hearted excuses for wine, generally thin and over-sweetened, but the M&S low alcohol range does have a couple of stars. Petit Valencia Fizz 2011 (£5.99) is a screw-topped, lightly fizzy wine full of thirst-quenching, grapey flavours and despite having just 5.5 per cent alcohol it has enough body and texture to convince your palate that it is a full-strength wine.
With just 8 per cent alcohol I also quite liked Flambant Bulles Rouge Vin de Table (£8.99) which is full of simple, frothy, raspberry flavours. Avoiding too much residual sweetness, Petit Froglet Shiraz 2011 (£6.49) from the South of France, has good positive plummy fruit and a surprisingly long finish.