Game is rich plunder for every food and wine fan to hoard against the first glistening frosts. The range of flavours from grouse to hare are a rich reward when paired with the perfect tipple, but there are a few simple guidelines to ensure your selection hits the bullseye. A splendid choice to cover rich meaty game is elegantly spiced Syrah from France's Northern Rhône which supremely complements boldly flavoured game such as wild duck. Look for appellations such as Cornas and St Joseph or for good value try the Hotel Du Vin's Syrah Vin de Pays Collines Rhodaniennes Gaillard. Chile too has some fruity and feisty examples such as Viña Falernia's Syrah from the high Elqui Valley which you can find perched on the Hotel du Vin's list. In most cases, Syrah (a.k.a. Shiraz) is big game's best buddy but for game with a lighter touch such as pheasant, Pinot Noir with its sensually delicate appeal reigns supreme and aged red Burgundy such as Volnay or Gevrey-Chambertin is an ethereal, haunting and utterly memorable match.
When matching food and wine, my rule of thumb is always to pick the biggest flavour on the plate to pair with your vino. But where game is concerned, the texture of the dish and how it's been cooked are also key. There's a huge difference between a soft juicy stew - which generally pairs sublimely with lighter reds such as an Italian Dolcetto or French Beaujolais Cru - and a hearty roast for which you could consider wheeling out the bigger guns of a Châteauneuf-du-Pape or even a mighty Italian Amarone such as the Hotel du Vin's pick from Bertami (which has all the impact, power and hoof of a flying boar). How gamey you prefer your meat is also worth considering when selecting the perfect glass to titivate your taste buds. Pinot Noir, for example, is phenomenal with pheasant, but I find the longer the bird's been hung, the more I love a savoury and earthy wine such as Gran Reserva Rioja - check out the splendours of Riscal paired with game at your local Hotel du Vin. And when the flavours of your game recipe ramp the dish all the way up to eleven, Zinfandel a.k.a. Primitivo is a grape to deploy alongside powerful sauces such as a haunch of venison with all the trimmings bathed in a red wine sauce. And of course if it's white wine you prefer, dive in! A rich oaky South African Chenin Blanc or glossy full fat Pinot Gris from Alsace are both outstanding options with game - especially when the meat is served in a fruity seasonal sauce.
But what do you need to boost a day out in the bracing country air in search of game? A hip flask is mandatory for the occasional dose of 'personal central heating' as I like to call it. Whilst many outdoors insulate their palates with whisky, Cognac and Armagnac both present wine lovers with a portable dose of grapey glory, and indeed many older examples remain splendid value for their golden calibre and warming intensity. When you're feeling peckish on an autumnal stride, prime pork pies, piping hot sausage rolls or steaming scotch eggs are a delight paired with New Zealand Pinot Noir - there's much talk of Otago, but it's also worth keeping an eye out for the juicy fruity examples from Marlborough for a fragrant sip to pair with your portable picnic. For a more robust tipple, Cabernet Franc is fab sipped alongside cured meats and pies with too examples from France's Loire, Argentina and South Africa featuring heavily on country strolls from Smith Towers. But wherever your palate leads you across this glorious game season, here's to a haul of victorious sips! Tally-ho!
Olly's brand new book 'Behind Enemy Wines' is released on 23rd September 2013 - order your signed and personalized copy from http://www.ollysmith.com/shop