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7:00am Saturday 17th August 2013 in Lifestyle
Fancy a drink? Our drinks columnist Sam Wylie-Harris finds some rich reds to match with game birds.
Deeply rooted in tradition, The Glorious Twelfth (August 12) marks the start of the grouse season, when shooting parties aim their best shot across our heathered moorlands.
Dating back to the 1800s, it was originally only the pursuit of the leisure classes, but now red grouse is a highly prized delicacy that attracts skilled sportsmen from all over the world. Because the fast, wild birds are only found in the British Isles, the sport is a great boost for the countryside and the local economy.
Earthy in flavour - as well as high in protein and low in fat - grouse, partridge and pheasant gravitate towards broad-shouldered reds with a good backbone of tannins that can stand up to the strength of the meat.
Fresh game birds are much lighter in flavour than those which have been hung for weeks (the shooting season runs to the end of November), and a luscious pinot noir such as Sherwood Stratum Waipara Pinot Noir 2011, New Zealand (£12.99, www.virginwines.co.uk) will complement the tender young flesh with its light, plummy, black forest fruits which pack a punch at 13.5%, but still manage to slide down like a dream.
Red wine lovers who like to wax lyrical on the joys of a good claret to complement the delicate gamey tang of young grouse will be well rewarded with Dourthe Diane de Belgrave 2009, France (£15, Oddbins) from the Haut-Medoc region in Bordeaux.
Named after the Goddess of Hunting, Diane is dressed with a ferret and crown on the label which harks back to the day when the chateau was a royal hunting lodge. A blend of 55% cabernet sauvignon, 40% merlot and 5% petit verdot, it drinks beautifully with elegance and softness, a good core of red fruits and round yet structured tannins.
A similar blend from the other side of the globe, Wirra Wirra Church Block Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz-Merlot 2011, Australia (£12.99, The Co-Operative) has been given a generous splash of shiraz to lend some spice to this velvety smooth red. This famous McLaren Vale winery certainly knows how to produce a rich, juicy red that's powerful but blessed with fine, grainy tannins to match the best game dishes like partridge and pheasant when they come into season, along with well-hung grouse.
Argentina's full-bodied reds also have the intensity and firmness to cut through the gamey flavours, spiced bread sauce and big plates with all the trimmings - which may come as a nice surprise for malbec fans who can't bear to tear themselves away from the country's flagship grape.
Not as muscular and concentrated as some, but displaying classic black fruit flavours with a savoury, liquorice note and a hint of cigar box, try Callia Bella Malbec 2012, Argentina (£8.99, or £5.99 each when you buy two, Majestic) which is keenly priced and dangerously easy to drink.
Deep, rich, Portuguese reds such as Marques de Borba Red 2011, Portugal (£9.70, www.tanners-wines.co.uk) are a good match with older birds as the grouse season rolls on and casseroles start to grace the table. A blend of indigenous and international grapes from the Alentejo region in the south, it's dark and dense with ample cherry and cassis balanced by good acidity and just the right amount of tannin on the lingering finish.
Expressive, juicy and fresh, the right Italian can be paired with most game birds, especially when the silky texture carries the ripest, red berry fruits laced with violet and plums. A top-notch Barolo at the special price, try Extra Special Barolo 2009, Italy (£10 from £15, from now until August 26, Asda).
Alternatively, a Super Tuscan such as Piccini Sasso al Poggio IGT Toscana 2008, Italy (£12.99, Morrisons) will remind wine lovers how these rich, modern reds can show so much depth and character when cabernet sauvignon and merlot are added to the dominant grape, sangiovese. Textured and powerful with a violet bouquet, prominent black cherry fruit, and a lick of liquorice and leather on the long, firm finish, this wine will continue to intrigue and impress long after the big guns, beaters and gamekeepers have left the moors.
:: Best buy
Where there's smoke... The Famous Grouse have launched a new expression for whisky noses. The Black Grouse Alpha Edition (£36.49, 70cl, Waitrose) builds on the soft, peaty notes of The Black Grouse, with a greater concentration of aged, peaty malt to complement the fruity richness and sweet, spicy smoothness.
:: Liquid news
Black Magic... Riedel have pulled out all the stops to celebrate their 40th Anniversary and created a collector's edition of six mouth blown lead crystal glasses.
We all love to drink with our eyes and 'spectacular' is the first word that comes to mind when handed a piano black lead crystal flute from their Riedel Sommeliers "BRB" Black Series Collector's Edition (£110 to £150 per glass, www.riedel.co.uk). With a design to suit every style of grape, these fragile beauties are held by a skinny red stem.
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