Fri. Jun 2nd, 2023

Several years ago, I traveled to Paso Robles, California, to partake in a different kind of wine tour. The feral hogs that call the California coast their home had ravaged several local vineyards and the growers needed help from hunters to get the burgeoning porcine populations under control.

I’m calling it my Grapes of Wrath tour,” said the second- generation grower as he showed me where the pigs had rooted under the fencing to get at the succulent grapes. “By the way, when you shoot one, try our Chardonnay when you cook its tenderloin.”

While transforming nuisance hogs into swine dining isn’t new to California wine country, the locavore movement (sourcing locally grown, sustainable foods) that accelerated during the pandemic has continued to grow legions of followers since. Eating healthy meat free of steroids, antibiotics, and chemicals even has hipsters ditching farm-raised meat for the original free-range protein.

Urbanites who might not want to grab a Winchester and head to the woods in search of venison are cozying up to their relatives in the country who see each autumn as a chance to fill their freezers with deer, elk, duck, pheasant, quail, and myriad other game animals that are as abundant as ever in America thanks to hunter-led (and funded) conservation efforts.

For those who don’t have country cousins but who would like to enjoy wild game, there’s Broken Arrow Meats, as their website says, “Wild game meat has been the purest and most sustainable meat source for 15,000 years…or more.” If you’re looking to get some buck without the bang, this Texas-based purveyor of high-quality, free-range meats is ready to deliver.

While some Americans recoil at the notion of eating game, Europeans have a very different cultural view of serving beast feasts. In fact, many of the continent’s finest restaurants specialize in game dishes and, when you visit meat markets in London, Paris, Prague, or Budapest, you’ll often see recently shot pheasants, hare, stag, and boar hanging in shop windows.

This could be because hunting in Europe was historically reserved for royalty, so the notion of enjoying wild game meant getting a seat farther up the societal food chain. A growing number of America’s finest chefs are now serving game as part of their menus of haute cuisine, and there are libraries full of books, scores of TV shows, and streaming channels that cater to those looking to cook wild game.

But when your Christmas goose is cooked, there is still the perplexing question of which vintage to pair with it? Thus, let’s review some great wine complements for wild game.

Stags’ Leap’s 2018 Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon (96 Points; $84) This is a crown jewel from a cellar that has been a meat lover’s favorite since the winery opened in 1971. This wine is a classic vintage from the Stags Leap District and the rich aromas and flavors of black cherry, dark raspberry, and black currant make it an ideal statement when served with medium rare elk tenderloin or your wild Christmas goose.

Far Niente 2019 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville (96 Points; $255) The next time you’re invited to Ted Turner’s ranch for bison ribeyes, consider this beauty from Far Niente Vineyards. This vintage presents with complex layers of blackberry and spice along with hints of blueberry, dark cherry, and espresso. Every sip reminds you that you’ve landed atop the food chain as every bottle is a holiday.

Beringer Knights Valley Reserve 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon (95 Points; $50) Have a successful wood duck and teal shoot (my two favorite ducks to eat) and want to invite some close friends to enjoy the harvest? Then you can’t go wrong with this selection from Beringer which offers a blend of black cherry, boysenberry, black currant, and blackberries with notes of lavender and sage.

The Prisoner Red Blend 2021 (92 Points; $52) With its mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Charbono, this blend delivers a combination of blackberry, pomegranate, and vanilla. It pairs especially well with venison, duck, and goose and has been a go-to selection for wild game gourmands for years.

Cakebread Cellars Dancing Bear Ranch 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot (97 Points; $175) This full-bodied, well-balanced gem from Cakebread delivers notes of black cherry and current, oak, new leather, and tobacco with silky tannins. It’ll pair well with moose or caribou prepared medium rare. Pop the cork on this vintage and more than bears will dance.

Priest Ranch 2018 Snake Oil Cabernet Sauvignon (93 Points; $110) Been saving a whitetail or mule deer tenderloin for a special occasion? Then here’s a home run selection to pair with it. This bold Cabernet brings hints of blueberry, black cherries, and mocha with a long, silky finish. One taste of this beauty and you, too, will become a Snake Oil salesman.

Kosta Browne 2020 Chardonnay (91 Points; $99) Ruffed grouse, quail, wild turkey (the bird, not the spirit) and pheasant all go well with this Chardonnay from Kosta Browne. With its pronounced citrus notes, pear, apple, and honeysuckle, the vintage’s long finish will make hunters want to return to the woods and fields to have more reasons to serve it.

Wente Vineyards 2020 Pinot Noir (88 Points; $35) From wild sheep to wild boar, you can’t go wrong with this versatile offering from Wente Vineyards. Founded in 1883, Wente is the longest, continuously operated family-owned winery in the U.S. While best known for their classic Chardonnay, game lovers will appreciate this Pinot Noir for its hints of fruit and oak while the region’s shale and limestone deposits impart complex earthy and mineral qualities to the wine.

Rombauer Carneros 2020 Chardonnay (86 Points; $40) Rombauer produced its first Chardonnay in 1982 but it wasn’t until 1990 that the vintner made a Chardonnay from the Carneros region. This smooth and buttery wine pairs well with white meat upland game birds (quail, pheasant, ruffed grouse) and any fish.

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