I’m always in two minds about whether to write about the beginning of the grouse season. After all only a tiny number of people will be sufficiently interested - or well-heeled - to bag the first birds that arrive on restaurant tables this evening.
However grouse will feature on menus over the next few weeks and I’ve been rethinking my recommendations. Up to now my view has been that grouse is such an expensive luxury that it deserves a venerable bottle of top red burgundy or Bordeaux. "I'd go for a burgundy like a Chambolle-Musigny but a mature red Bordeaux or a Côte Rôtie would be equally delicious" was what I wrote a couple of years ago.
But the fact is that most chefs now cook grouse as rare as roast beef and I’m not sure that a younger bottle of the same type of wine mightn’t be better with the season’s first birds. And that could easily be pinot from less traditional areas such as Central Otago and Martinborough in New Zealand, Australia’s Mornington Peninsula or Yarra Valley, Oregon or from California’s Anderson or Russian River Valleys whose wines often outperform mediocre burgundies. Or a vivid young syrah rather than a venerable one. Just because you’re paying a fortune for your bird doesn’t mean you should necessarily pay over the odds for your wine, especially if you're eating out.
Later in the season when grouse gets gamier you might want to reach for more complex wines - the 1994 Domaine Tempier Bandol I wrote about recently would be fabulous but younger less expensive southern French mourvèdres would be fine too.
I found restaurateur Tim Hart of Hambleton Hall in Rutland was with me on the mature mourvèdre front but was still basically a burgundy man "The same whether it’s August or November" So is cookery Rowley Leigh who used to offer a special selection of burgundies 'at prices way below normal margins' at his former restaurant Le Cafe Anglais because, he said, 'we heartily believe in drinking Burgundy with grouse'.
Henry Harris, formerly of Racine in Knightsbridge was prepared to concede "there might be some difference in a couple of weeks as the birds get more fragrant and the heather seems stronger" but was still inclined to stick to France. "Day one an elegant Bordeaux, as the season progresses a Rhône."
So, there you go. Maybe I’m now out on a limb but if you’re lucky enough to be having grouse more than once I’d try it both ways.
If you want to have a go at grouse yourself there's a great recipe here from Bristol chef Stephen Markwick with whom I collaborated on A Well-Run Kitchen.