The 10 Best Wine Pairings for Venison

The 10 Best Wine Pairings for Venison
© Shutterstock

The 10 Best Wine Pairings for Venison

While each species of deer from roe to reindeer has subtle flavour differences, the most important factors are cut and cuisson. Here are the top 10 wine pairings with this flavoursome meat.

1. Roasted

The dinner party show stopper! Haunch or saddle of venison are the choicest cuts for this style of cooking, ideally kept on the bone to maximise flavour and succulence. A roe deer should comfortably feed about six people, while red deer will cater for double that if your oven is up to the challenge.

When it comes to a wine match, this is the moment to pull out something suitably aristocratic and boldly flavoured. Think along the same lines as roast beef: serious red Burgundy, Bordeaux or Brunello di Montalcino should all hit the mark. Treat yourself to an older bottle whose maturity will complement the gamey edge to the meat.

2. Braised

A cold winter’s evening calls for the comforting embrace of a slow cooked stew. It’s also the perfect way to melt sinewy but flavourful cuts like shank, from the lower leg. This may be rustic cooking, but swap venison for veal in the Italian classic osso buco and you have an eminently restaurant-grade dish. Such hearty food calls for a meaty wine with real depth of flavour.

Just as your casserole will almost certainly contain herbs – juniper is especially friendly with venison – to balance the richness of the meat, so too the wild, garrigue element of a Douro or Languedoc red brings a welcome savoury edge to these wines’ full-bodied fruit.

The mellowness of a reserva Rioja would suit the mood of this dish nicely too. Throwing in some bacon? Then consider the smokey, black peppercorn, roast meat character of a Northern Rhône Syrah. 

3. Cured

If your freezer is already bursting at the seams then curing venison is an excellent way to prolong its shelf life. Bresaola, that salt cured, air dried northern Italian speciality, may be most commonly associated with beef, but venison makes a very acceptable alternative.

It’s a great way to use either the topside, silverside or rump, all lean cuts from the rear end of the animal that are so often viewed as the poor man’s roast. This is where lighter, brighter wines can come into play with venison.

Beaujolais is the classic charcuterie wine, but you could also look at a crunchy Loire red or succulent young Garnacha from north-eastern Spain: Catalayud, Campo de Borja or Cariñena can all offer good value. 

4. Curried

Muntjac, sambar, chital: the Indian sub-continent and south-east Asia boast plenty of native deer species so it’s no surprise they have worked their way into many of the vibrant cuisines from this part of the world. That’s not always reflected in the many oriental restaurants so popular across Europe and North America, but a few such as Gymkhana in London show off how deliciously venison can work with spices.

Next time you cook up a biryani or rendang, try using venison for a change. Shoulder and neck work beautifully here: tough but tasty cuts that can be diced and cooked slowly to take on all the wonderful flavours of your favourite curry.

In this style of cooking it is the spice flavours and heat that will have more of a bearing on wine choice than the meat itself. Avoid anything with a lot of tannin that will clash with the spice. The green pepper and spicy character of Chilean Carmenere can be an excellent match with tomato-based curries in particular.

If coconut milk is your starting point then it’s worth considering an off dry, aromatic white such as Riesling or Pinot Gris. New Zealand makes plenty of both varieties in a fragrant, mouth-filling style that should fit the bill nicely.

5. Barbecued

Whether it’s a showpiece butterflied haunch, loin steaks or kebabs, barbecuing venison adds a gloriously smokey element to this rich, gamey meat. With very little fat, venison cooked this way often benefits from a marinade, introducing some potentially powerful flavours that need to be factored into any wine match.

Ripe, plushly textured wines tend to shine in this scenario so it makes sense to look to New World options such as a bold yet supple Malbec from Argentina, where barbecue – or parrilla – is a way of life. Alternatively, the exuberant, brambly, smokey character of Californian Zinfandel will take any sweet or spicy marinade in its stride.

For a more refreshing option, try the vibrant yet soft fruited expressions of Pinot Noir from Marlborough or Central Otago in New Zealand, many of which have a touch of cinnamon spice that plays nicely off the barbecue smoke and sauce.

6. Ragù

Italians have perfected the art of a deeply flavoured, rich ragù, perfectly supported by broad ribbons of pappardelle. Every nonna will have her own secret preparation tip or ingredient, but patient simmering is key. Venison, generally either minced or finely diced shoulder, makes an excellent alternative to the classic beef version.

Given the Italian soul of this dish, it makes sense to look in this direction for your wine. The Piedmont region’s second string red grape Barbera – often more approachable than the tannic, temperamental Nebbiolo – would provide a delicious match here. Not only does it bring a trademark bright acidity to cut through the rich ragù, but also a juicy core of fruit that somehow melts into the dish in a satisfactorily silky combination.

7. Smoked

For picnic lunch inspiration or an elegant starter, smoked venison is a delicious way to prepare deer. Just imagine a thinly sliced, perfectly pink loin, its tender texture and gamey flavour lifted to another level by a smoky infusion. Mouth-watering.

If served as a salad, perhaps accompanied by thinly sliced pear, beetroot or goat cheese, then reach for a white Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend, either from Bordeaux itself or one of the many delicious examples made in Australia, especially Margaret River.

With some bottle age, the citrus freshness of these wines evolves into a richer, gently smokey style with fresh hay aromas and a touch of spice that plays beautifully with the venison. This could also be the perfect excuse to open some dry sherry, either a chilled, saline fino or darker, richer, nuttier amontillado.

8. Fried

A venison steak or dainty cutlets, seared and seasoned on the outside yet perfectly pink on the inside, is a truly succulent treat. Choose a wine that will bring plenty of flavour but not excessive tannins: Pinot Noir is a natural choice here, especially one that balances bright red fruit with a savoury touch of forest floor that would play nicely with the venison’s gamey edge.

Oregon or a good Bourgogne Rouge could both hit the spot nicely. Red wine may seem the obvious option here, but as any producer from the Mosel or Rheingau would be quick to point out, Riesling also has the charisma to match game. Look for an off-dry Spätlese, a choice that will sing even more harmoniously if you add some suitably Teutonic braised red cabbage to the plate.

9. Raw

When you know your venison is very fresh and good quality then tartare is a beautiful way to use the prime, tender loin. As for what to drink with it, don’t forget to consider the other ingredients in this dish: capers, cornichons, shallots and mustard all bring plenty of sharpness.

The bright, crunchy fruit and fresh hedgerow, graphite edge of a Loire Cabernet Franc would play nicely here. Don’t be afraid to chill the bottle slightly on a hot summer’s day.

10. Offal

So highly prized that it’s often kept back as the stalker’s perk, deer liver can be tricky to track down, especially as freshness is key here. Roe liver is considered a particular treat thanks to its particularly sweet, rich flavour and a melt-in-the-mouth texture that foie gras fans will recognise.

The body and tannic framework of young Bordeaux can work well here, while Sangiovese has not only the required bite, but also a great affinity with the sage that so often accompanies liver dishes – Hannibal Lector was not wrong about Chianti.

For a less obvious choice, try one the many excellent Blaufränkisch wines from Austria, another country whose cuisine sensibly prizes liver as a star ingredient.

Offal: Deer Liver
© Shutterstock
Offal: Deer Liver
Gabriel Stone
Gabriel Stone
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