The Hunter’s Moon is soon to wax beyond crescent status, and the season is just getting started for game birds. Lunar cycles notwithstanding, this is when quail, pheasant and other feathery creatures make bird-brained forays into the marshy blind (crow, too!). And enjoying a delicious wine accompaniment with these flavorful birds is not only relaxing after the “hunt,” but can enhance a late-autumn feast.
Of course, some might feel squeamish about blasting something out of the sky that has just taken flight. (Never mind that the economies related to slaughtering one’s own kill align with the budget theme here.) So, in case camouflage and shotguns are in short supply – or abhorred altogether – there are outlets for gamy gastronomy. The strong, pronounced flavors of game birds are unique – a throwback to the past, when hunting actually was quite commonplace.
Depending on the preparation, red wines tend to work best with this kind of poultry – but not all reds. Traditional Thanksgiving Turkey might beg for Pinot Noir/Burgundy, but the earthier darker meat of goose, duck and pheasant goes well with red wines that have a little bolder fruit (but not jammy) and some spice. A forest-floor or mushroom aroma (many game-bird dishes have mushroom gravies) would be a bonus.
That being said, Cabernet Sauvignon and other similarly tannic wines can clash awkwardly with gamy meat. Aussie Shiraz might also be too big. Selecting a wine for game can get a bit tricky.
Still, a flavorful braise of many game birds requires a red that has character and complexity. France’s Languedoc region offers more spicy and herbaceous reds, which renowned food-and-dining writer Florence Fabricant of the New York Times suggests as a pairing in her Cassoulet and Braised Duck recipe.
“A classic match with game birds would be an Old World red with a dry, earthy element,” says Jay Alter at Binny’s in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. “I would choose the Gautier Fitou [$13]. It’s a Languedoc blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignane in a typically rustic, spicy style.” Alter adds that Syrah is a particularly good varietal for game birds.
A nice choice for a roast goose or braised duck is th Jouget Chinon Cuvee ($18) a Cabernet Franc from France’s Loire Valley. It has gorgeous fruit with an herbal element.
Some of the best ways to enjoy different wines – which can be priced nicely – is to try a new, wild twist on poultry. Just be sure to select wine pairings carefully, or dinner guests might turn to another time-honored tradition: flipping the bird.