The rules of game have some wild pairings

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 26, 2012 - 3:22 PM

Whether it's bear or boar, it can be tricky when trying to select a wine with your great catch.

Pierre Gaillard Syrah 2010 is stout enough for gamier animals but balanced enough to work with duck or chicken.

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A lot of work, whether in a field, forest or farm, goes into bringing wild game to the table. Blessedly, choosing wines for these dishes doesn't have to involve such heavy lifting.

Although it's sometimes best to look at a sauce or marinade for a proper pairing (more on that later), most meats garnered by hunters or even from game farms are so strongly flavored that it's best to start with the protein.

Take venison (or elk, which is basically a large deer). This meat "has feral qualities and it tends to be an iron-y meat and has a significant bloody taste," said Lenny Russo, who probably prepares more game dishes than anyone around at St. Paul's Heartland restaurant. For Russo that calls for syrah, thanks to its meaty and minerally qualities.

Syrah also works best with bear's powerful flavors and fatty texture, Russo said, although it can help to have a more acidic sangiovese in the mix, perhaps in a "Super Tuscan" blend that includes syrah. Tuscan reds also tend to be the best match for wild boar.

At the other end of the four-legged spectrum is rabbit, which should be treated more like chicken. ("Everything tastes either like chicken or licorice, right?" Russo quipped.) "If you're stewing it hunter-style, try a pinot noir or sangiovese or cab franc from the Loire or carmenere from Chile," Russo said. But for simpler preparations, sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio should work best.

White wines also are an apt complement for pheasant; look for the floral offerings from Alsace or Germany -- pinot blanc, dry riesling, gewürztraminer -- or a gruner veltliner from Austria. If the sauce is fruit-laden and a bit sweet, an off-dry riesling is apropos, Russo said.

While the similarly delicate flavors of quail work well with high-acid whites, grouse and partridge (Hungarian or chukar) "are more assertive and have that kind of liver-y component, so you can use a bolder wine," Russo said, suggesting syrah yet again, "especially if the bird has been hung upside down. That stuff is powerful."

OK, then.

Providing even more of a counterintuitive approach are moose and goose. The former boasts "more delicate flavors and a more buttery mouthfeel" than most folks realize, Russo said, recommending a red from Bordeaux.

Goose can be mild but often is "really robust. It's remarkable how much it can taste like beef," Russo said. "If you had your eyes closed, you might think you were eating a four-legged beast." That means a cabernet sauvignon- or merlot-based wine from Bordeaux or California.

Duck also plays well with red wine, but something a bit lighter-bodied like pinot noir from Oregon or Burgundy. That's especially true if it's prepared with mushrooms, always a splendid pinot partner.

There's probably no such thing as a perfect pairing, especially since everyone's palate is different, but there's a wonderful way to come pretty doggone close: Marinate the meat with the same wine you'll be serving.

"That's a great way to 'cheat,'" Russo said. "People will be saying, 'Wow, this pairing is so great; how'd you do that?'"

Bill Ward • bill.ward@startribune.com

  • WINE OF THE WEEK

    PIERRE GAILLARD SYRAH 2010

    The experience: The aromas are so lovely -- herbs, a little leather and, yes, grapes -- that it's tempting just to sit and sniff this Rhône red. Big mistake. The briary blue and red fruits glide through to a nice, slightly dusty finish. It's a fab and fitting introduction to Gaillard's higher-end offerings (Saint-Joseph, Côte Rôtie, etc.).

    The setting: This syrah is stout enough for gamier animals (well, maybe not black bear) and balanced enough to work with duck or even roast chicken.

    The back story: The grapes are grown on stone-terraced slopes plunging into the Rhone River.

    The tab: $14, available at Cork Dork, Big Discount, Zipp's, Solo Vino, North Loop, Heidi's, In Season, the Newsroom, Sapor, Bev's Wine Bar and others.

    BILL WARD
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