ABOVE: THE LANDSCAPE OF AUSTRIA'S BURGENLAND AND SCHLOSS HALBTURN © SCHLOSS HALBTURN.
LONDON – Autumnal mists, falling leaves and the excuse to hunker down and eat Real Food – it all sounds tempting, especially as the summer tan is fading fast. As a fan of seasonal food, this time of year cries out for feathered game to go with the crisper temperatures. And, as the grape harvest spreads out over the next weeks, we can turn to previous vintages to supply the bottles that go with grouse, partridge and pheasant.
In Britain, grouse appears first, even as many are still on holiday. From 12 August, these marvellous game birds that only live on heather moors in Yorkshire and Scotland make their appearance. I prefer to wait for a few weeks before eating them as then they acquire even more flavour. Roast them with lots of butter and serve with bread sauce – no one does this better than my husband and he is pretty good at finding the ideal wine too! The other day, his choice surprised me, but it worked like a dream. Alpha Estate in Greece’s northern wine region of Florina makes outstanding red and white wines, using both indigenous and French grape varieties. This 2008 red is made from 60% Syrah, 20% Merlot and 20% Xinomavro, matured in medium toast, fine grain French oak and unfiltered. We decanted it, pouring the wine into big ‘ballons,’ and were rewarded with a glorious, spicy bouquet and a velvety, Syrah taste. Magic.
You can also launch into your best red Burgundies and Rhônes with grouse, with all their damp undergrowth, earthy richness complementing the bird. However, I have just had another bottle from our fast-diminishing case of Clos de la Roche 1999 from the incomparable Charles Rousseau and, after I had waxed lyrical about the violets, spices and brambles, not to mention the fruity finesse, notes of strawberries and silky seduction, I finished with the resounding endorsement, Perfect Partridge Wine!
There are two great modern Indian restaurants in London, Trishna and Gymkhana, and they both have excellent game with original, and subtle, spicing. Bhatti Ka grouse at Gymkhana, marinated for a day, is a treat and marries perfectly with a delicious, fresh red from Austria’s Burgenland, the 2009 Zweigelt Koennigsegg from Schloss Halbturn. It pays to think laterally with game birds and I have a feeling that ‘native’ grape varieties are particularly exciting as drinking partners. I have had great fun with matching grouse with Aglianico, the Greek origin grape grown in Italy’s Basilicata and Campania regions – try D’Angelo’s Aglianico del Vulture for the full effect.
RED GROUSE STANDING ON ALERT IN MOORLAND © ANDREW PARKINSON/CORBIS.
And, when it comes to pheasant with a splash of paprika, Hungarian fashion, you could, of course, opt for a thumping great Bull’s Blood from Eger, a wine that has certainly come out of the closet since my early drinking days. Playing it nearer to home, if you are Stateside, go for one of Ridge Vineyards’ superlative Zinfandel-based beauties, Geyserville, York Creek or Lytton Springs. This is my idea of bliss, especially if dinner is then rounded off with a chunk of stravecchio, aged Parmigiano in all its granular glory. Anyone would be set up for winter after this.
Sotheby’s international wine specialist Serena Sutcliffe, MW is one of the world’s leading authorities on wine.