In August 1998 I was invited to join the panel for a tasting of wines with game being conducted by the UK’s Wine magazine. The compiled results of all the tasters along with discussion of the whole subject of matching wine with game appeared in the November 1998 edition of Wine. It was an extremely enjoyable event with some good to very good wines and some beautifully cooked food. The biggest surprise of the day for me was how well the bold, fruit-driven wines showed against many of the dishes. A traditional partner for game is a berry sauce (redcurrants, rowan, etc) so maybe this shouldn’t have been such a surprise. Some of the Burgundies (a more traditional partner to game) also showed well, with their own “gamey”, earthy qualities accentuated. Overall it seems that the flavours of game are sympathetic to quite a wide range of red wine styles.
The entire tasting was double-blind – the panellists did not know the identity of the wine in their glass, nor any clues about the styles or origins of the range to be tasted. We began with a formal tasting of all 15 wines – without food – where we had to write notes, predict ageability and award a score out of 100. Phase two was sitting down to 4 courses of game and re-tasting the wines with each. For this phase we split into 2 groups; one tasting the even numbered wines and the other tasting the odd numbered wines. Unfortunately, my group didn’t taste the only white wine of the day; with cold game, white wines can be fine partners.
Below are my tasting notes from the initial tasting, followed by a brief summary of the wines with food part of the tasting. Prices shown are in pounds sterling (roughly £5=$8) and all notes are exactly as written (blind).
Domaine Pochan (Rhone), Crozes-Hermitage Blanc Château Cursan 1995 (£9.75)
Lovely, clean nose with delicate pear-drop aromas. Sappy, melon fruit. Good body and a nice, long, alcoholic, spicy finish. Drink or hold, 86/100.
Ropiteau (Burgundy), Beaune 1er Cru Les Grèves 1995 (£12.99)
Nose is fairly restrained, but with a density of bitter, curranty fruit. Some very pure, juicy, raspberry fruit on the palate that is tightly structured. Quite grippy with a dry, powerful finish. Not quite fruity enough to be really enjoyable. Drink or hold, 82/100.
Rossignol-Trapet (Burgundy), Beaune 1er Cru Teurons 1992 (£16.63)
Quite a heady nose: earthy and slightly dank with emerging scents of berry fruit. The palate is terribly dry and has an unpleasant, inky quality, but there is some length. Drink now, 82/100.
Chateau du Trignon, Cotes du Rhone Villages 1995 (£6.79)
Vibrant cherry colour and a nicely sweet, confectionery nose. Lovely parma-violet and pot-pourri scents. Creamy palate with bright, crunchy fruit and drying tannins. Good structure and a longish finish. Drink now, 89/100.
Marqués del Puerto, Rioja Crianza 1995 (£5.75)
Fairly reserved nose. Cool and creamy palate with ripe berry fruit but very subdued. rather under-powered all round, yet without enough finesse to stand out. Drink now, 84/100.
Santa Anna (Argentina), Malbec 1997 (£4.50)
Ripe and inviting, peppery nose with rich black fruits and a creamy note. Delightful, rich, blackberry fruit that’s not at all jammy. Concentrated and powerful yet finishing with a nice blend of power and soft tannic structure. Drink or hold, 88/100.
Cornacchia (Italy), Montepulciano a’Abruzzo “Le Coste” 1996 (£8.69)
Concentrated, spicy nose with subtle hints of cinnamon and cloves. An intriguing spice-box of aromas. Unusual palate with a very sour, plum-skin roughness and high acidity. Italian? Reminds of tinned Italian tomatoes – which is a problem – but I think there is class and plenty of interest. Drink or hold, 90/100.
Fattoria Le Pupille (Italy), Morrellino di Scansano 1997 (£7.99)
Dense nose of dark, liquorice and pepper aromas. A great depth of meaty, gamey, dark fruit. Quite stewed and tarry with high acidity. Long, tannic and powerful, with a lip-smacking qualities. Drink or hold, 91/100.
Château de Lamarque (Haut-Médoc) 1994 (£11.75)
Subdued. A little alcohol and some good raspberry fruit. On the palate a very structured, well-proportioned wine with good chewy fruit, firm tannins and good underpinning acidity. A deft use of new oak and a long finish. Classy but young. Hold. 92/100
Produttori del Barberesco (Italy), Nebbiolo delle Langhe 1997 (£7.99)
Mature colour. Richly coffeed nose with a slightly brackish, dank edge. On the palate full and quite meaty with dense, bitter cherry fruit, Some sweeter notes are buried in there. Fine length. Drink now, 88/100.
Château Canon-Moueix Pomerol 1989 (£14.00)
Very brown, gravy colour. Deep, slightly oxidised nose, but nice animal aromas. Dark and earthy. Palate is full with good tannins and solid pinot (oops!) fruit beneath. Good, long, tannic finish that’s nice and sour with lemony acidity. Drink now. 89/100.
Cousino-Macul (Chile), Antiguas Reservas (£6.99)
Lovely cherry-cola nose with suffused, mellow, vanillin oak. Powerful berry fruit on the palate, a lot of grip and a rounded, chunky character. Dry but pure finish. Drink now, 86/100.
Cline, Cotes d’Oakley Rouge 1996 (£6.99)
Charcoal and burning embers on the nose. Definite sulphur. This impression carries through on the palate where sweet, raspberry fruit is rather buried by bitter tannins. Not for me. Lemony acidity dominates the finish. Drink now, 80/100.
This is either a major disappointment based on previous vintages, or an out-of-condition bottle. I suspect the latter.
Wyndham (Australia) “555” Shiraz 1996 (£6.99)
Wonderfully fruit-driven style with bags of crunchy, minty, high-toned fruit. Australian. Great chocolaty depth of ravishing, ripe, dusty blueberry fruit and a blast of oak and acidity in the fine, long finish. Up-front, powerful stuff. Drink or hold, 92/100.
Jim Barry (Australia), McCrae Wood Shiraz 1994 (£14.99)
Wonderfully deep and rich, coffee/mocha nose. On the palate, a load of dark, sensual, sweet, berry fruit bolstered by ripe tannins and plenty of toasted oak. Long and lovely. Drink now, 92/100.
Wine with food
The dishes were prepared by the Ubiquitous Chip restaurant, Ashton Lane, Glasgow (where the tasting was held). This was superb, basically traditional cooking of wonderful ingredients. A personal thanks to the Chip for a great performance:
- Aberdeenshire grouse roasted rare, Scots bread sauce, game chips and watercress
- Marinaded haunch of Argyllshire venison, Marag Gheal, pea puree, rowan and mint jelly and crispy kale
- Perthshire wood pigeon roasted in bacon, wild mushroom sauce, rich game sauce and pearl barley
- Dumfriesshire wild rabbit braised in cinnamon, yellow mustard mash and deep fried vegetables.
Two general points: the accompaniments often had a dramatic effect on the wine/game match; for example, mustard mash and rowan jelly totally dominated even the powerful flavours of the game, so wines had to match with these flavours. Secondly, by the time we worked through 32 tasting pairs (4 dishes X 8 wines) the game had cooled. It was notable that the gamey flavours intensified as this happened. The tasting was still blind during this phase.
Wine 2 (the Ropiteau Beaune) which scored 82/100 and was “not quite fruity enough” really improved with the food. It was much sweeter and fruitier with the grouse in particular. Wine 4 (the Trignon Cotes du Rhone) exhibited sweetly ripe flavours that were dulled by the stronger meats, though it was a gorgeous partner to the venison and rowan jelly in particular. It also seemed happy with the pungent mustard mash. Wine 6 (the Santa Anna Malbec) was too tannic for the game birds, though with the rich, dark, game sauce it was magical, taking on a real bitter chocolate richness. It was lovely too with the strongest flavoured of the 4 meats, the wild rabbit. Wine 8 (the Pupille Morrellino) was a real all-rounder, its tarry, gamey flavours marrying beautifully with this style of food. Wine 10 (the Nebbiolo) was another excellent and consistent match for the game, particularly with the venison where the sweeter elements of the wine emerged. Wine 12 (the Antiguas Reservas) was rather too grippy for the venison and rowan jelly, but was a success with the other dishes; its big, chunky, fruity character a good foil to the earthy, game flavours. Wine 14 (the Wyndham Shiraz) was too intense for the rather delicate grouse, but was absolutely brilliant with the venison and rabbit – really zingy fruit lifting and complementing the succulent, earthy qualities of the meat. There actually was a 16th drink – a malt whisky. I don’t feel competent to write a TN on it, but it worked amazingly well with the rabbit and was acceptable with the venison. Not my drink of choice with good food I’m afraid (hangs his Scottish head in shame….)