Match the Catch

Five choice wines to pair with wild fish and game.

Field & Stream Online Editors

White wine with fish, red wine with meat: Although that old maxim might apply when a simple steak is on the menu, the bottle you choose to serve with your venison loin or pan-fried trout requires more consideration. In fact, there are certain affinities between game and wines that can enormously improve the enjoyment of a meal. In keeping with this idea, I have chosen five main courses and matched them to wines that enhance everything about their essential flavors. I would probably alter my picks if the sauce for one entr¿¿e is very spicy or Asian or sweet. But for the sportsman who's going to prepare his fish or game with simple ingredients, these wines pair perfectly.

[BRACKET "1. Duck"]
Because it has a flavor that is finer than chicken's dark meat, it's important to choose a wine that will not overpower duck. Merlot is a solid choice because it's known for its smooth tannins and ability to become velvety and lush at a fairly young age. There are plenty of good California merlots, but one of the most consistent, year after year, is the Napa Valley's Clos du Val ($20), and the 2000 and 2001 vintages are excellent.

[BRACKET "2. Trout"]
Trout goes well with white wines that have enough acid to accent the marvelous flavor. With its applelike fruitiness and its tangy finish, riesling makes a great match. German rieslings that are labeled trocken, meaning dry, are delicious with trout, but you can stay domestic and go with Hogue Cellars Johannisberg riesling, which at about $8 is an astonishment for its grace and delightful fruit.

[BRACKET "3. Pheasant"]
The mild gaminess and subtle texture of pheasant call for a lighter red wine. You don't want a big, overpowering cabernet, but a pinot noir, especially one from California's Russian River Valley, is a good match. These wines exhibit an elegant body, fruit, some spice, and a complexity that can be described as faintly gamey. I'm particularly impressed by Rodney Strong's pinot noirs, which sell for a reasonable $19.

[BRACKET "4. Striped Bass"]
Stripers have a meaty firmness and enough fat to demand an equally substantial wine like chardonnay. France's Burgundy region produces the most ethereal and most expensive, but California makes the biggest-bodied. Some California chards spend too much time aging in oak and can taste like wood. But Acacia's chardonnays ($17) have always provided the kind of balanced flavors I crave when I eat bass.

[BRACKET "5. Venison"]
Venison is among the great pleasures of gastronomy, and nothing but a fine red wine with some good fruit and tannin will hold up to it. I find pinot noirs too delicate and California cabernets too brawny. Ideal for venison is P¿¿ppoli ($18), a Chianti made from sangiovese grapes grown in the illustrious "Classico" region. Its lustiness and its scents of cinnamon and pepper are perfect for enhancing the richness of venison.