Girl Goes Wild: Pairing Wine with Game
Updated: Sep 11
…knives and forks Kangaroo!
Edmund Woo says, “There’s plenty of room for all God’s creatures…right next to the mashed potatoes.”
If you know a hunter, you may have tried things such as venison or turkey, but few have the luxury of handouts of antelope, bison, or alligator. Additionally, you have the difficulty of finding a way to cook the meat, and of course, there is the common complaint that it “tastes gamey”. It pays to remember that game is going to be leaner than a nice fat-streaked Angus ribeye. Translated, that means you don’t need such a dry wine to “cut the fat”, so to speak. Kate Holder says:
“You want that drier wine to kind of balance out the creamy flavor. The fatty ribeye calls for a nice, dry Cabernet to accent the buttery fat. But a quail, for instance, doesn’t have that fat, so all you’re going to taste is the wine. For the same reason, a nice marbleized ribeye will cover up a Pinot Noir. You might as well drink water!”
You will hear experts say that is the reason for pairing with an older wine, but those older wines can mean a hefty price tag.
Enter…Chef Edmund Woo, owner of Saskatoon in Greenville, South Carolina. Wild game is his specialty. Oh, he wins frequent awards for his steaks too, but his skill in sauce creation for his wild game is where he really shines.
The sauces he has developed for his dishes keep you longing for another visit, and Woo and his sommelier have put together a wine list, from boutique and local wineries, that accents the game he serves, while holding down the cost for his customers.
Kate Holder, Saskatoon’s certified sommelier, put together a private “class” for us. The way the game is prepared is part of the wine pairing equation.
Game cut + herbs/spices/sauces + wine = Happy Tummy.
The key to this is selecting a wine that complements rather than competes. Think of it like this: You wouldn’t have a Moscato with Lasagna, it would be too far apart on the scale of sweet to spicy. Think of game in the same way, and also keep in mind that truly wild game, running free, hunted down, and killed will have a more “gamey” taste than farm-raised game served in a restaurant or found on the grocer’s shelves.
“I enjoy introducing people to new wines. And actually, I really like training my servers about wine.” People try to pick a wine that ‘stands up’ to the food, meeting power with more power; but you don’t want the wine and the food to compete with one another. Kate puts it like this: “A Malbec is a really safe bet, especially for people who are just learning about it. I think blends are the way to go with wild game because they tend to match the game, they don’t overpower it. You want a balance between them.”
Bartholomew Broadbent, a San Francisco-based wine importer and a noted expert on all things grape, was interviewed in 2004 by Jonathan Miles. He stated that “as a general guideline, when game is on the menu, I lean toward wines from the classic regions –Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhone, or Portugal, and Spain. The cuisines of these regions were founded on game, so there's a natural affinity there."
I recently tried a number of wild game dishes, and I will list the specific wines paired with the dish, also mentioning the general varietal information. Never think that you can’t try something because you don’t have the same wine I had. Try things and find something you like—have some fun! The days of “you can’t drink red wine with THAT” are gone!
The A to Z’s of Pairings
Alligator – a light and sweet meat. Although it is similar to chicken, it is actually more of a seafood because you can definitely taste the sea in it. This pairs beautifully with a local vineyard City Scape Semi-Dry Pineapple Riesling, but it is equally well suited to Monitnore Estate Pinot Noir because of the mustard. Since you can prepare alligator a few different ways, preparation will be a consideration when picking a wine.
Antelope Filet – a reddish looking meat, it is delicate and calls for something a bit sweeter or buttery. I had it with both a Revelry Unoaked Chardonnay and a City Scape Blackberry Merlot. Not always a fan of Chardonnay, mostly because of the excess time in oak barrels, I found this one to be smooth to the tongue and lighter on the finish, coming from stainless steel aging tanks. The merlot was just the right sweetness to accent the antelope. That was a clear winner in my mind.
Buffalo – I know, it’s Bison; but do you actually call it bison? Me either. The buffalo flank steak was an even match for a Cotes du Rhone Cabernet and a Requiem Cabernet. That cut doesn’t have the same fatty, creamy flavors of a buffalo ribeye, for instance. The Cotes du Rhone had me drooling, but Darrel preferred the Requiem (to each his own).
Did you also know that most of the “wild bison” roaming free are not pureblooded? They have been bred with cattle, like Black Angus, for a beefier meat — called Beefalo. There is a movement now to blood test and isolate the true plains bison and reestablish the strain.
Duck – this day it was duck sausage. We paired it first with the Monitnore Pinot Noir, and I think that worked because duck is actually a red meat, close to beef. Another consideration is that duck is a fattier meat, so you look for something to take away the greasy feeling on your tongue, like a wine boasting flavors of cherry or citrus. The general consensus seems to be a red wine (Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon); but Kate, in another moment of brilliance, pulled out a Rosé, which worked just as well because, well, it was a Rosé of Pinot! People tend to think of Rosé as a light, summer cooler, but depending on the grapes used, it can be so much more!
Elk – this tender delicately-flavored meat was one of our favorites, and the Barnard Griffin Rob’s Red (a blend), with a dry black pepper and a little sweeter finish, was excellent. Like bison and venison, elk requires a rich red wine. Another pairing, an inky zinfandel with chewy tannins, spicy aroma, coffee flavor, and a touch of black licorice, will be sure to please.
Kangaroo – I confess, this is my “best thing I ever ate” item. This is what keeps me hopping back to Saskatoon over and over (pun intended). With a lick-your-plate clean orange demiglace, I think about this meal for weeks after a visit. Pair this lean meat with a Cotes du Rhone Cabernet Sauvignon and we’re talking nirvana! The Peirano Unoaked Chardonnay was a good choice too; but, as I said, find what you like and don’t let anyone tell you it won’t work.
Lamb – while not actually a wild game, lamb does present a challenge for people to pair with wine. That Requiem Cabernet Sauvignon (see the comments on Buffalo) was a delight!
Ostrich – another surprisingly “white” meat on the lighter side, this matched the Revelry Unoaked Chardonnay nicely.
Quail – served hickory grilled and with a forest mushroom cream sauce, this delicate, aromatic bird was delicious with either the Peirano Estate Chardonnay from Lodi or the Monitnore Pinot Noir. It would also be a match for other reds like a Beaujolais or Merlot. The Lodi vines are old vines, so the taste that comes out is not overwhelming.
If you’re fortunate enough to visit Saskatoon, be sure to save room for Bread Pudding (just take my word for it!). It’s topped with whip cream and oozing in a whiskey glaze, and a port would pair nicely. I have to admit, that little glass of Moscato didn’t hurt!
Tell Edmund and Renee I said “Hi!”
The author of this article, Jo Clark, is a happily retired business and computer technology teacher, a freelance travel writer, photographer, food and wine lover from South Carolina’s Grand Strand. She loves history and learning about the culture of places she visits, including the local flavors unique to each spot. She has traveled in the United States, Asia, and Russia, and is excited to keep adding to the list, always seeking places that are off the beaten path. She is a proud member of TravMedia, Travel Massive, and ITWPA (International Travel Writers and Photographers Alliance.) She is active on her own page, HaveGlassWillTravel.com, on Facebook: HaveGlassWillTravel, Instagram: JoGoesEverywhere, and Twitter: Glass_Have.
Darrel Mellies is a photographer, and he likes to say that "Jo goes everywhere, and she makes me drive!" More of his photography may be seen at PhotographybyDarrel.