From Chamois to Ostrich: The Ten Best Wine Pairings for Wild Game

Hunting gear

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Hunting gear

Hunting gear

© shutterstock

When it comes to wild game, every country has its local specialisms. What might seem commonplace, a pest even, in some places takes on an exotic quality when served up in other parts of the world. Add some variety to your menu repertoire with some of these ten alternative game species, enhanced of course by the right wine match.

1. Rabbit

An endearingly fluffy appearance distracts many people from the pest status and delicious eating of this widespread species. Like chicken, rabbit can pair equally well with both red and white wines; the decisive factor is most likely to be your other ingredients. Even a single dish can pose intriguing alternatives.

Take that French classic, lapin à la moutarde. You might think the creamy sauce would nudge you towards a white wine, but the mustard element calls out for a red wine with bite, whether from tannin or acidity. If you’ve added fresh tarragon – a friendly herb for rabbit – then that might sway the balance towards a young, oaked white Burgundy or, more adventurously, the intense, nutty, acid drive of a Jura vin jaune. Then again the addition of some bacon lardons might nudge you back towards red wine. The medium body and crunchy acidity of a Loire Cabernet Franc could fit the bill nicely, as could the peppery bite of a cool climate Syrah: think Northern Rhône, Hawke’s Bay or Yarra Valley.

2. Pigeon

This is certainly not a recommendation to cook up one of those streetwise city pigeons with a dubious urban diet. Look instead for their equally wily rural counterparts, who descend en masse upon rural fields, devouring grain, seed, nuts and seedlings to the infuriation of farmers. It’s a diet that creates a rich, iron-tinged meat, although for a paler, milder experience try young, farmed squab.

There are a host of rewarding pigeon recipes, but try swapping it with veal for a popular twist on the Italian dish saltimbocca. Wrapped in parma ham with sage leaves, all the ingredients point towards Sangiovese, ideally one with some weight such as Rosso di Montalcino. For an equally good but more recherché match, look to the north of Italy for lively, spicy reds such as Lagrein or Teroldego.

3. Hare

It may share a passing resemblance to rabbit, but the speedy, rather mystical hare offers an altogether different eating experience. Dark, dense, gamey and rich, this meat has far more in common with venison.

Make the most of that bold, deep flavour with a slowly simmered ragù. Any prospective wine partner will need similar heft: the tannins and autumnal feel of Barolo or Barbaresco would play well with this rich, gamey dish; so too would the warm, herby embrace of a serious southern Rhône such as Châteauneuf du Pape or Gigondas.

4. Wild boar

Winemakers across Europe delight in drinking their own bottles with wild boar in culinary revenge for the toll these animals take on the grape crop. Although darker and gamier in flavour than the meat of domesticated pigs, wild boar is similarly versatile in matching well with both red and white wines.

In fact, depending on accompaniments, marinades and cooking method, wild boar could match anything and everything from bold Californian Zinfandel, Barossa Shiraz or Douro blends right through paprika-loving Hungarian reds and tangy Italians to juicy Beaujolais – and that’s just the reds.

The right white wine can not only play beautifully with those quince or apple flavours that sit so well alongside pork, but also support these condiments’ role of enhancing the meat’s succulence. Play off the sweetness of the fruit with an off-dry German Riesling or Loire Chenin, whose bright acidity will also slice cleanly through fattier cuts such as belly.

5. Chamois

This small, nimble mountain goat is a common sight for those who spend their summers hiking high in the Pyrenees, Alps and Apennines, not to mention other European mountain ranges. Further afield, chamois have also thrived since being introduced to the mountainous South Island of New Zealand.

As a prized game species, chamois beard, or Gamsbart, is a traditional decoration on hats in Bavaria and the Tyrol. Indeed, it makes complete sense to serve an Austrian wine with this lean, gamey meat that is not dissimilar to venison or goat.

One of the country’s increasingly impressive Pinot Noirs or its rarer, indigenous cousin St Laurent, would match seamlessly with pink, tender chamois loin served alongside earthy chanterelles and a well reduced red wine and game stock sauce. This dish would also be a perfect way to show off the exciting quality of today’s German Pinot Noir with its earthier, more savoury character.

6. Guinea fowl

With its distinctive spotty plumage and noisy chatter the guineafowl is a common sight across much of sub-Saharan Africa. However, these birds’ helpfully aggressive attitude towards livestock predators, as well as their aesthetic and culinary appeal, has seen them introduced widely around the world.

When it comes to the kitchen, guinea fowl offers more flavour than most commercially produced chicken, yet is not so gamey as pheasant. If served simply roasted then look for a wine with a bright, juicy style rather than too many drying tannins.

A Beaujolais cru such as Fleurie or Moulin à Vent would be a winning choice. You could also channel this bird’s African roots and opt for South Africa’s modern breed of fragrant, fresh Cinsault, its vibrant red cherry fruit balanced by delicate, savoury spice.

7. Quail

This dainty bird provides popular sport across the Mediterranean and USA, but is also widely kept domestically thanks to its delicious eggs and tender meat. Quail lends itself beautifully to bold Asian and North African flavours.

The former calls for that aromatic lift and spice soothing sweetness of an off-dry Pinot Gris or Riesling. Alternatively match the warming cinnamon, cumin or harissa spice of Moroccan and Lebanese cuisine with the soft embrace of Grenache. The southern Rhône is an obvious hunting ground, but try the haunting perfume of old vine Grenache from Blewitt Springs in Australia’s McLaren Vale, as well as the bright, juicy garnachas of north-east Spain.

8. Squirrel

More generally regarded as vermin rather than game, squirrel is widely and cheaply – if not often commercially – available. The larger grey squirrel is native to North America but now widespread across Europe where it has not only edged out its smaller, native red cousin but causes significant damage to trees. This thuggish behaviour has sparked a growing enthusiasm for squirrel dishes, tempered only by the fiddly preparation of such a small, lean animal.

With a diet based on nuts, berries and acorns, squirrel tastes similar to wild rabbit. Older animals can become tough and dry so it’s worth trying to ensure yours is a tender young specimen. The simplest, tastiest way to prepare this pocket-sized rodent is to poach it until the meat falls away from the bones. Use this and the resulting stock as the base for a delicious “squizzotto”.

It makes sense to pair such a northern Italian inspired dish with a wine from the same region, so look for a well-made example of either Soave or Gavi di Gavi. Red wine could also work, but choose a lighter style so as not to overpower the white squirrel meat: think Dolcetto or Barbera rather than a big Barolo.

9. Kangaroo

Australians can have mixed feelings about eating their national animal, but Skippy is now widely available both in his native country and exported abroad as a popular novelty. This is no menu gimmick though; kangaroo is well worth tucking into. Stronger and more gamey in flavour than beef or lamb, yet less prone to becoming tough and dry like venison. That said, it is a lean meat so rewards being served pink or with a juicy marinade: this red meat can handle some bold flavours.

That’s true when it comes to planning your wine match too. It may sound clichéd but Aussie Shiraz and kangaroo, especially barbecued steaks, is a winning combination. For a less predictable option try one of the southern Italian varieties that are proving so well suited to Australia’s sunshine. Nero d’Avola and Aglianico both combine ripe, dark fruit with a savoury, gamey edge that would hit the spot here.

10. Ostrich

It may be a bird, but when it comes to your plate ostrich has far more in common with venison or beef. This very lean meat is great for those looking for flavour without the cholesterol, but as with any game requires careful cooking to prevent it drying out. The South Africans have plenty of experience with this local bird, favouring peppery steaks simply grilled medium rare on the braai. It makes sense to keep the wine South African too.

Ostrich calls for the dark fruit, black pepper and smoked meat character of the country’s Shiraz, although look out for the growing band of increasingly refined examples that now label themselves Syrah. That smoked meat, braai-friendly character also shines through in South Africa’s speciality variety, Pinotage. If you’ve been scarred by a bad example reminiscent of burnt rubber then it’s worth revisiting this grape in the hands of a specialist such as Kanonkop.

Rabbit 

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Pigeon

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Hare

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Wild boar

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Chamois

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Guinea fowl

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Quail

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Quail

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Squirrel

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Kangaroo

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Ostrich

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