As I am writing it is harvest time in Rioja and the rest of Spain: that means decision time, for in order to maintain quality you have to look at the quantity. During the lead up to harvest we visit the grapes each day, in order to achieve the correct balance of sugars and acidity in the juice and assessing the first vineyards to start the pick of the grapes. In Rioja you can pick up to nine tonnes per hectare. We chose to pick six tonnes, sometimes less, to optimise the quality of the grapes. All around the regions of Spain shoots have been taking place since the 1st of October, with partridge, pheasant and other species. So it is a time when we begin to see rich game meats come into their own.
What is the best way to match Spanish wine with game? Rioja, along with Ribera and Toro, produces reds rich in character, while in Monterrei and Bierzo the Mencia grape gives a great Burgundian style of wine. You need to look at what you are cooking, and the flavourings that you are using in the dish; and remember that the wine accompanies the food not the other way round. With game birds we’re looking at a distinctive richness due to their freedom during rearing, and it is these delightful flavours that we look for when producing dishes for family and friends, and that we want to complement with our choice of wine.
Pheasants are particularly good pot-roasted, casseroled, or braised. Similar in many ways to chicken, but more flavoursome and leaner, it is easy to switch chicken for pheasant in many of your favourite recipes. Try a pheasant pie, risotto, Moroccan style tagine or pheasant braised in wine or cider with lots of herbs. Younger birds are also delicious roasted with bacon or pancetta, and breasts can be pan fried and served with a salsa, sauce or salad and dressing for a quick and simple supper. As well as being tastier and lower in fat and cholesterol than chicken, pheasant is also rich in many essential nutrients, thanks to its natural lifestyle and foraged diet.
Partridge is also a far healthier option than most farmed meats. Like most wild meats, it is lower in saturated fat. In the UK, the two main types of partridge are the red legged partridge and the grey partridge. The red legged partridge is the larger and more common of the two, available throughout the season from September to February. The native grey partridge, which has a darker meat with a more intense flavour, is less regularly available but a treat when it is. Where I live in Norfolk we see both. Partridge breast fillets are a versatile choice for an array of meals. They are excellent in salads, curries, stews, risottos, fajitas, and pasta recipes; there are so many options on how you cook them.
Grouse tastes like no other game ; for many it is the superlative game bird. They live and feed on moorland heather and bilberries which give complex flavours to the dark red meat. Importantly you need to be aware as to whether you are dealing with a young bird or an older bird which would be less tender. Grouse holds strong flavours well and is ideal for warm spicy dishes, curries etc.
Let’s look at the quality levels of wines in Spain. There are four official levels, but as you’ll see at Bodegas Riojanas we’ve adapted these for our own purpose. Young wine with or without oak ageing, often referred to as ‘Joven’, with ‘Roble’ indicating where oak has been used to impart some additional character. Next is Crianza, a wine that is a minimum of 2 years old on release with at least 1 year spent in barrel. At Bodegas Riojanas we generally release our Crianzas at 3 years old, with at least 18 months in the barrel. Next, we have Reserva, a wine which needs to be a minimum 3 years old having spent a minimum of 1 year in barrel. At Bodegas Riojanas, Reserva designates a minimum of 2 years in barrel with a further 3 years in bottle before release. The top quality level is Gran Reserva where the wine will spend a minimum of 2 years in barrel and only released when it is at least 5 years old. At Bodegas Riojanas we age our Gran Reservas for a minimum of 30 months, and on average release the wines when they are a minimum 7 years old. Where barrel ageing is used, white wines in Rioja are released a little younger than the reds.
Vina Essencia Red.
This limited production, the essence of Rioja, is a wine for those wonderful occasions that are truly special.
Perfect to accompany the finest expression of game dishes.
Monte Real Barrel Fermented White.
Dry white with hints of citrus fruits with slight vanilla hints and smoky nuttiness.
Ideal with game dishes with a rich sauce, the wine will cut through with its refreshing acidity and nutty character.
Monte Real Tempranillo Red.
A young fruity wine with 5 months barrel ageing, giving it a hint of vanilla to go with lively cherry and raspberry characters.
Again, ideal with game dishes where the sauce is rich, when the wine’s acidity and tannins will refresh the palate.
SRP £ 9.99
Monte Real Cuvee Red.
A unique blend of Tempranillo and Mazeulo, creating a rich wine with great character. Deep rich cherry and raspberry, with smoky hints.
Ideal with game dishes where the meat is flame grilled to medium rare.
Monte Real Crianza Red.
18 months in barrel gives this a rich character with smoky spicy overtones and rich fruit.
Ideal with pot roast game dishes, it also combines well with rich sauces.
Monte Real Garnacha Red.
A new wine, rich deep fruit showing what the grape can do, with intense cropping in the vineyards to give the wine its essence. Aged for 5 months in new oak.
Particularly good with dishes with mushroom or truffle sauces.
SRP £ 14.99
Gargalo Mencia Red
This grape is seen as Spain’s answer to Burgundy’s Pinot Noir, and this from the vineyards of Spain leading fashion designers Roberto Verino is one of the best expressions of its character; vibrant fruit and tannins combined with excellent acidity.
Ideal with all types of game due to its acidity and freshness.
Monte Real Reserva Red
24 months in barrel gives deep rich fruit and vanilla chocolate characters over the cherry and raspberry fruits.
Where roasted game needs accompanying without compromise.
Monte Real Gran Reserva Red.
A sublime blend of chocolate vanilla characters and rich fruit with spicy character.
The ideal accompaniment to the very richest of game where excellence deserves the best a wine can offer.