With the shooting season now in full swing, Christine Austin selects the accompaniments for wildfowl.
Marks & Spencer may have decided not to stock grouse on its shelves, but these bundles of delicacy are available now at your nearest farm shop with other game birds such as partridge and pheasant following on within weeks. This weekend prices are likely to be high as the first birds go to top restaurants but as the season wears on the cost per pair of birds comes down very quickly. I find that game is one of the bargains of the meat counter.
I prefer to buy my game ready plucked and oven ready, which probably reflects my city upbringing. While I can cope with seeing these beautiful birds, all feathers and drooping beaks hanging in a butcher’s shop, getting them from their natural state to oven ready is well-beyond my capabilities. But I love cooking game, bringing out its different flavours by roasting, poaching or grilling and serving with a berry sauce, earthy mushrooms or just traditional vegetables.
Matching wine to game depends on the type of bird and the way it is cooked but my first port of call is usually a Pinot Noir. If you have shot your own grouse then you are likely to have paid dearly for the privilege so you might as well continue on that theme by opening a decent bottle of Burgundy. Harrogate Fine Wine (01423 522270) has a fine collection, in particular Nuits St Georges Premier Cru Les Pruliers 2009 from rising star producer Taupenot-Merme (£59.95). I drank this with roast guinea fowl and sautéed girolles earlier this year and thoroughly enjoyed its deep concentration and rich, dark cherry fruit. 2009 was a terrific vintage and this wine still has the ability to mature even further.
I have also recently enjoyed the wines of Joseph Faiveley. This producer was founded in Nuits St Georges almost 200 years ago and over the years has acquired some of the finest parcels of vineyard in the Cote d’Or. The style of the wines used to be slightly austere and firm, but now there is a new family member at the helm of the company and there have been changes in the winemaking team too. The result is a range of wines that have shaken off their old style and now allow the fruit and balance to shine through. Bon Coeur in Masham now stocks these wines (01765 688200) on a duty-paid or in-bond basis. Try the Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru La Combe aux Moines 2010 (£40) for its clear, almost polished cherry fruit with savoury, mushroomy backnotes and a harmonious, silky finish.
Of course there are plenty of other sources of good Pinot as well as Burgundy and to match with game I would head straight to New Zealand. Majestic has the spice-dusted cherry and bramble fruit flavours of 2013 Mud House Pinot Noir from Central Otago (£9.99 on multibuy) which goes well with bacon-wrapped grouse, particularly if it comes with a redcurrant sauce. The deeper blackcurrant flavours of Blind River Pinot Noir 2003 from Marlborough (£16.99 on multibuy) are accentuated by a distinct streak of liquorice and spice. This is suitable for richer dishes, perhaps when the bird is served with its own liver or an older bird casseroled with mushrooms.
Rummaging around in my wine stock, I recently discovered an old vintage (2004) of Rippon Vineyard Pinot Noir from what is generally regarded as the most beautiful vineyard in the world on the edge of Lake Wanaka in Central Otago. This had been part of the tasting when Nick Mills, son of the Rolfe Mills who planted this vineyard, visited York for the Food and Drink Festival. At the end of the tasting a spare bottle was pressed into my hands and I gratefully tucked it away to monitor the way it developed. Ten years after vintage it was very impressive, dark, savoury and concentrated with flavour, it had that unmistakable edge of Pinot Noir ‘grunt’ that moves the whole profile away from simple fruit and into complexity and complete rounded harmony. I didn’t have any game to hand at the time so I enjoyed this wine with seared calf’s liver drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar but this dark meaty flavour profile would go wonderfully with game.
Rippon Vineyard is run on totally biodynamic lines and yields are low which makes it difficult to find. Not readily available in Yorkshire, you need to contact the main importers Lea and Sandeman (0207 244 0522) for stocks of Rippon Mature Vine Pinot Noir 2010 (£33.50).
Don’t forget to order much more than you need and make sure you lose several bottles at the back of the cellar for at least five years.
As the game season matures then there is the opportunity to move to deeper, more structured wines.
I like classic Italian wines with pheasant in particular from Piedmont which is great hunting country where the wines seem to have been developed to go with game. Waitrose has recently revised its Italian range and there is tremendous value in Araldica Barbera d’Asti Superiore 2011 (£8.99) from the hills of Piedmont. With spiced red cherry fruit aromas and a palate that echoes truffles and forest floors, this is a wine to partner pheasant especially if it is cooked with chestnuts and wild mushrooms.
Also at Waitrose, Oddero Barolo 2009, Piedmont (£23.99) has the weight, structure and complexity to go with bigger flavours such as venison.
Field and Fawcett in York (01904 489073) has a particularly good range of Piedmontese wines starting with a simple, light fruity Alasia Dolcetto d’Asti 2012 (£7.70) which is just the thing to accompany a plain, quick sautéed breast of partridge. Step up to Barbaresco 2008 from the excellent local co-operative (£25.70) and enjoy its dark cherry and redcurrant fruit, with clean, fresh acidity that can cut through the richest of dishes. For a really big-flavoured dish then Ascheri Barolo Sorano 2010, (£34.50) provides all the scents of autumn mist, hedgerows and earthy undergrowth, laced with dark plum and cherry fruit.