We Brits have always had a reputation for liking our wines old and our game high but times have changed. Today the key factor in matching game tends to be not how ‘gamey’ it is but how it’s cooked and what is served with it.
In many restaurants now game is cooked quickly and served rare so can take a younger, more tannic wine than would have once been the case. Accompanying sauces also tend to be robust, and wine-based, bringing more full-bodied reds into play. Nevertheless the reason for serving wild game such as partridge or venison - as opposed to chicken or beef - is that it does have a distinctive flavour for which you generally pay a premium so you want to pick your wine with some care.
I also found when I was researching my latest book An Appetite for Ale that certain beers such as Belgian sour red ales and gueuze had a strong affinity with game, particularly casseroled game so these are pairings also worth considering.
Here are my latest thoughts on the subject:
* Simply roast birds such as partridge, pheasant, or grouse with simple accompaniments (e.g. roast potatoes, bread sauce and a light gravy rather than a heavy wine-based jus)
These remain the ideal opportunity to bring out a serious bottle of burgundy, a mature red Bordeaux or their New World equivalents (see here) If you like your birds underdone a younger wine may be a more flattering accompaniment. A good Chianti is always a reliable match for more everyday occasions.
Belgian sour red ales such as Rodenbach are also delicious with simply roast game.
* more elaborate game roasts with foie gras and/or truffles or a concentrated ‘jus’
Similar wines to the above but from a more recent vintage. The richer accompanying flavours can handle a more tannic wine.
* pheasant casseroled with apples
Apples tend to lead in the direction of a white (a dry Riesling with a couple of years’ bottle age would be perfect) rather than a red, particularly if the sauce has some added cream. You could equally well serve a French cidre bouché (semi-sparkling cider) or a gueuze (a Belgian lambic beer brewed with wild yeasts) especially if you’re serving braised cabbage as an accompaniment.
* pot-roast pheasant
With any other flavourings or a red wine sauce a robust red should work well, especially reds that contain Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo or Malbec. (So good quality Côtes du Rhône Villages, southern French reds and Rioja all make good choices, and a wine like Côte Rôtie a sublime one). I’d avoid very muscular young reds which are likely to overwhelm the flavour of the meat.
Generally you can serve similar wines to those you would serve with beef though as the game flavour is more pronounced you might want to choose accompanying wines with a slightly gamey flavour of their own. Good examples would be Hermitage, Bandol and Ribera del Duero (or other examples of mature Syrah or Mourvèdre) though be careful of flavour overload with very concentrated sauces. Sometimes it can be better to serve a slightly lighter (though still well-structured) wine when your sauce is particularly dense and rich.
So far as beer is concerned, venison dishes can be an excellent match for porter, a strong Trappist ale like Chimay or a French bière de garde.
* Cold game/game pie
As with simply roast game this is a great opportunity to drink your favourite red burgundy but cold game is also a treat with a full bodied vintage rosé Champagne such as Ruinart (or, of course, Krug). If your game is in a salad (like a warm pigeon salad or a smoked duck or venison one) you could also try a sour cherry beer such as kriek.
Vegetables with game
Vegetables that will flatter fine wines include mashed potatoes and pureed root vegetables such as celeriac (good combined with potato) and parsnips. Carrots and mushrooms also work well. Take care though with braised cabbage particularly red cabbage cooked with sugar and vinegar which can be a wine killer. (Fruity young reds like Shiraz, Barbera or Zinfandel should survive)