As fall cools off rapidly here in Montana, hunting season is in full swing. As archers call in big bull elk, I am personally preparing for the upcoming rifle season and hoping to put some meat in the freezer! In the spirit of this, my good friend and fellow hunter Christopher Brown hosted my wife and I for a lovely elk roast dinner the other night. Since game can sometimes be a difficult pairing for people, we decided to taste several different styles of wine and see what went well.
Christopher’s talented wife Lori Ann did most of the work on the cooking front and laid out a delightful spread that included slow roasted elk with a tomatillo and onion “salsa”. It was more of a slightly spiced sauce than a true salsa and it was delicious slathered on top of thick perfectly cooked slices of elk roast. There was also a side of cauliflower “hummus” in which the cauliflower were pureed and seasoned after roasting. Finally to round it out we added some chopped, sautéed brussel sprouts with crushed pistachios and balsamic vinegar. All said, it was a stellar dinner and definitely got Chris and I fired up to go drop another elk this year!
The wines as you can see from the picture were varied and provided a broad range of taste/pairing options.
We started with a 2008 J Schram rosé from Schramsberg. This is probably my favorite domestic bubbly and can compete with any bubbly in the world. Ripe strawberry, melon, brioche, baked lemon, and hints of spring flowers. The palate is rich and deep, yet maintains lovely freshness and is simply delightful to drink.
Given the herbal nature of the tomatillos and the slight heat of the sauce, I elected to include a rosé to see how that would work. I chose the Tempier Bandol rosé as I thought this mourvèdre and cinsault based wine would have the body and power to stand up the elk. Also, it is just really damn good and my personal favorite when it comes to rosé. It was overall a very solid pairing. Not mind blowing, but the herbal, peppery, and garrigue notes of the wine went nicely with the sauce and the freshness of the wine was excellent with the hint of heat. The body of the wine provided an adequate foil to the meat and all in all it worked. So I would recommend this if you are planning to have a sauce or rub with a decent spice component.
The next wine was probably my personal favorite, a 1996 Corton-Bressands from Comte Senard. Aged red Burgundy (or red Burgundy in general) is often a great option for pairing with game as the wines often develop savory and gamy notes with age. This particular bottle had lovely dried cherry and currant notes along with worn leather, dried violet, savory meat notes, and hints of forest floor. The flavors with the elk melded beautifully. If there had been much more spice, it would not have worked as well, but this is a classic pairing that almost always works.
We then moved to a 2004 reserva Rioja from Lopez de Heredia. This is probably my favorite Rioja producer as they make classically styled, elegant, and long lived tempranillo based wines. This particular bottle was a little tight and seemed a little young yet, but still had lovely bright cherry, orange peel, herbs, baking spice, and a hint of dill. The palate has potential, but the tannins are still a touch grippy at this point. It overall paired well with the elk and if the wine were 3-5 years older I think would work well.
Finally we added a bigger wine, a 2011 cabernet sauvignon from Boeschen Vineyards in Napa. This is a small boutique producer whose wines I have enjoyed for several years. This was probably my least favorite pairing wise with the meal, but was still overall a delicious wine. Lots of ripe cassis, blueberry, black cherry, hints of bell pepper and toffee, a touch of vanilla. The palate is well balanced and has nicely integrated tannins. Definitely a well made and tasty wine, but the fruit seemed to clash a bit with the flavors of the meal.
Finally, I’ll leave you with a few other options that could work with your favorite game recipes that we did not taste in the name of moderation… Syrah is a classic pairing with elk and venison, especially from the Northern Rhone. This goes well with simple preparations on the grill or with stews. Also, Southern Rhone blends of grenache, syrah, mourvèdre, etc can work. I would prefer options that have a solid percentage of non-grenache grapes as grenache only could run into the same problem as the cabernet. Vieux Telegraphe or Beaucastel would be great options. And last, but not least, cabernet franc can actually work well with game. The slightly more herbal, tobacco tinged flavors with a bit less fruit and higher acidity can be good option. With that, I better get to the rifle range so I actually have a chance to try these pairings again!