Wines to go with Swiss game, with hunting season in swing

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Game is hugely popular in France and Switzerland this time of year, with dates for hunting deer, chamois and ibex varying slightly between cantons, but you’ll find it on restaurant tables and in grocery stores everywhere. Small game are hunted a bit later, mainly in October.

For a better understanding of hunting game in canton Graubuenden, where ibex hunting is particularly famous, see a story published 5 September 2012 by swissinfo.

Red wines are universally the beverage that accompanies game, but you need wines that can hold their own. Things to keep in mind, when choosing a wine:

  • what kind of game are you eating
  • how strong is the flavour
  • how is it prepared
  • what’s being cooked with it? Mushrooms are particularly popular accompaniments, usually the more flavourful ones you’ll be seeing at farmers’ markets now.

Pinot Noir, the less common option

I had one of the most beautiful pieces of game in years, in August, to my surprise, since the season hadn’t opened yet – it was at Didier de Courten’s restaurant (19/20 Gault Millau and Michelin 2 stars) in Sierre and it turns out that the venison, so delicate you could cut it with a butter knife, comes from the chef’s private property, which changes the rules for “harvesting” the meat a bit. I was there with other judges from the Mondial des Pinots, so not surprisingly, we had a Pinot Noir.

I would normally have thought this would be too light a wine but with a delicate piece of game, where the flavour is relatively mild and the texture fine, it worked.

Go for rustic, for civets but pick a fine one with a good escalope

Civet is basically stew and for those who didn’t grow up cooking game, the ready-made venison civets on supermarket meat counters are an easy option.

They’re generally made with a red wine sauce and they generally aren’t as gamey in taste as the meat cuts the butcher offers.

I would argue they are also less interesting, but we all have nights when simplicity of preparation dictates the menu.

The most beautiful wine for game I’ve had this autumn is a Humagne Rouge and it’s perfect for this, although I have another bottle in the cellar I’m saving for a good piece of game (the winemaker suggests pairing it with selle de chevreuil and médaillons de cerf) and I’ll get some of his newer bottles for a civet.

André Fontannaz at Cave La Madeleine in Vétroz, canton Valais remains one of Switzerland’s finest winemakers despite tough competition from the new generation coming up, which includes his daughter, luckily.

We had a bottle of the cellar’s Humagne Rouge 2008 that was rich and powerful, with earthy and herbal notes and a slightly bitter but pleasing finish that was almost austere. It is a terrific match for game with wine sauce. Every sip was a pleasure, we all agreed. Price: CHF18.50, online

Syrah for elegance, and a wine liked by all

Echichens village vines, with Henri Cruchon as caretaker

The winery is open and busy on Saturdays

Venison escalopes and wild boar were being sold in my local Coop this week. The first, which we cut into slices about 175 each and marinated in wine with herbs and onions, we cooked for 3-4 minutes on each side, removed to keep warm while I made a wine sauce from the marinade with a couple tablespoons of the Ikea red berry jam that we always have too much of (the result of buying meatballs there too often!). This was an elegant dish that required a powerful wine with class.

My choice, and I was very happy with it, was a Syrah from Henri Cruchon in Echichens, near the hospital on the top end of Morges. Syrah (Shiraz to some) is an international wine, well known and easily accepted, so it’s a good wine for guests whose tastes you’re unsure of.

Vines at Henri Cruchon’s: healthy and happy, on the hillside above Morges 24 September 2012

A visit to the winery, its charming village square and the walking paths with the lake spread out below is a special autumn treat in any event, and they are open (and busy) on Saturdays. Cruchon is a member of the Memoire des Vins Suisses, an exclusive club by invitation only of some of Switzerland’s finest winemakers, who share their passion for creating fine wines that will age well.

The Syrah 2010 isn’t spicy enough to stand up to stronger game, but the smooth tannins, black berries and hint of coffee and tobacco made it just right with our escalopes. The choice at this winery is huge by Swiss standards, and these are wonderful, mostly organic and biodynamic wines – no herbicides used, no chemical products, no fertilizers, and the work of real pros in the cellar. Price: CHF22.00, online

Wild boar married to a Geneva Gamay

Wild boar is a coarser meat and there are dozens of ways to prepare it, but for balance a rustic wine, in particular a Humagne Rouge from Valais is a good idea. But it’s an interesting showcase meat to prepare and sometimes you want a bigger wine that makes more of a statement.

A beautiful wine from Geneva that I took home after a tasting session at Cave SA in Gland is Jean-Michel Novelle’s Fruit Noir, an astonishing Gamay that spends up to two years in barrel and takes on a complexity that is very unusual for this wine.

If  you still have doubts that Geneva makes good wines, based on bad news from 30 years ago, try this, from one of the canton’s best winery’s, in Satigny, le Grand-Clos. You’ll be a believer by the end: Geneva makes some extraordinary wines. The 2008  is sold out and I haven’t yet tried the 2009. Price: CHF29.50 at Cave SA, online.

Note: I’ll be trying various game and wine combinations for the next two months. You can follow the tasting notes on Ellen’s Wine World on Facebook, which I’ll also recopy here so you can search for them, or for those who don’t use Facebook.