The onset of autumn announces a highlight of the gastronomic year. Game season is here once more which means that restaurants and food stores are tempting us with tastes and ingredients traditionally reserved for this time of year.
When it comes to pairing wines with game we are blessed with a wonderful variety of local wines, including some Swiss specialities, which truly come into their own during the game season.
The flavours of game meat are typically quite delicate so young red wines with often aggressive tannins tend to overwhelm. Also, the sauce for many of these dishes can be quite concentrated in flavour so it is worth favouring a slightly lighter wine than one that is equally full-flavoured.
White wines are certainly not out of contention, particularly when paired with game birds. Chardonnay Reserve wines go with with roast quail with chestnuts. Viognier is not planted that widely in Switzerland but pairs nicely with pigeon or hare dishes. Humagne Blanche is a good match with all kinds of terrine.
However, red wines are more often the natural favourite with game so here are six black grape varieties that will bring the best out of your gastronomic game experience. They are ranked from the most to the least planted in Switzerland.
In the German-speaking cantons Pinot Noir bears the name Blauburgunder, which translates as ‘the blue grape from Burgundy’, paying homage to its spiritual heartland in France. Pinot Noir truly flourishes in the Bündner Herrschaft region around Chur in the Graubünden (Grisons) and also dominates the Three Lakes region around Neuchâtel. It produces wines with the delicate aromas and haunting sensuality that are true to the elegance and finesse of the variety. Pinot Noir pairs well with game terrine, venison stew, cabbage-stuffed quail, and wild mushroom dishes. Recommended producers : Georg Fromm (GR), Urs Pircher (ZH), Jacques Tatasciore (NE)
In the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, the country’s fourth largest wine-producing region, the Merlot grape is pre-eminent. Accounting for over 80% of production it ripens to perfection in the local climate. It can produce red wines in a range of styles from fairly light to rich, full-bodied and carefully oaked wines that can hold their own against some top Bordeaux reds. Serve the richer versions with pigeon roasted with fruits, grilled quail and wild duck. Recommended producers: Guido Brivio, Sergio Monti, Enrico Trapletti
Developed in Switzerland Gamaret is a crossing of grapes including Gamay. It is planted extensively in the Geneva vineyards and delivers wines of an enticing deep purple colour with powerful aromas of blackberries and sweet spices. The tannins are rich and round but not overwhelming. Good pairings are stewed hare with squash and wild boar. Recommended producers: Clos des Pins, Philippe Villard, Domaine des Curiades
Whenever you are unsure of which wine to choose Syrah represents a safe bet. It has become one of the most popular grape varieties around the world yet its origins are rooted in the valley of the River Rhône in France just over the border. In Switzerland it does particularly well in the Valais on the sunny slopes around Fully and Chamoson near Martigny. The better examples produce concentrated wines typified by black fruit flavours and a signature touch of black pepper with notes of liquorice and leather. Serve with stuffed quail, roast venison, partridge and wild boar. Recommended producers: Simon Maye, Jean-René Germanier, Benoît Dorsaz
Humagne Rouge is one of the red wine specialities in the Valais. It makes a well-structured, rustic wine sporting a spicy nose with smoke and leather notes and wild flavours including black fruits and vegetal notes. Humagne Rouge makes a good match with roast saddle of venison, roast squab with wild mushrooms and saddle of hare. Recommended producers: Simon Maye, Rouvinez, Mabillard-Fuchs
Another indigenous variety that is more or less exclusive to the Valais, Cornalin is rightly considered more refined and age-worthy. It produces deep-coloured wines with aromas of black cherries and wild berries. The wines are full-bodied with silky tannins and the best examples typically need a few years to age in bottle. Serve with venison casserole prepared with vegetables, herbs and red wine (Cornalin, of course) and roast game birds such as partridge and pheasant. Recommended producers: Denis Mercier, Domaine Cornulus, Defayes & Crettenand.
Simon Hardy holds a Diploma in Wines & Spirits. He is the founder of Fitting Wines, which provides a range of personalised wine services in Switzerland. For more information or help with sourcing any of these wines please contact him at email@example.com.