How to Pair Wild Game with Wine, from Venison to Alligator

Pairing wine with dinner can be a daunting task if you are serving wild game meat. After all, not all game is created equally. For example, rich and hearty venison is very different from wild boar. So the rule that red wine goes with meat doesn’t apply here.

Dustin Wilson, a Master Sommelier, start of the wine documentary SOMM and a veteran wine merchant, knows that pairing wine and food opens a lot of doors when it comes to selection, so he created Verve Wine. Verve Wine offers a smart and streamlined wine-buying experience that is as easy as ordering a pizza. Instead of roaming the liquor store aimlessly, you can find a wine that is tailored to your tastes, price point and sense of adventure. And if you eat game meat, your sense of adventure is way beyond wine and cheese.

Verve has a section on the website specifically for pairing game and wine, and Dustin himself has selected some of the offerings. We got his picks on wine pairing, including everything from alligator to venison.

1. Alligator

BBQed alligator. So tender! #starchefs2016 @starchefs #alligatormeat #bbq

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Alligator is an aquatic reptile, so its taste will be both meaty – similar dark meat chicken or turkey –  and fishy, so choosing a wine to pair can be somewhat tricky. And since you can prepare alligator a few different ways, preparation will be a consideration when picking a wine.

You won’t fail, though, if you choose something soft, like Pinot Noir, if you want a red wine, and Pinot Grigio if you prefer a white wine.

2. Dove

The final result!!! Oh. My. Poppers. BEST THINGS EVER!!!!! Recipe to come!

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Dove may be small, but it is rich in flavor. If you prefer white, a big Chardonnay works well as a wild game wine choice.

If you are hoping to serve it with red, then Dustin suggests a Domaine Lafarge Bourgogne Rouge 2013 as it is “delicate and earthy from one of the best guys in Burgundy.”

3. Duck

Crispy duck breast – delicious! #GameChanger #GameFarm #GameMeat #BeInspired #SydneyEats

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“Duck and great Syrah have to be one of my all-time favorite combos,” says Verve Wine’s Dustin Wilson. His go-to when preparing roast duck, seared duck breast and even stuffed duck is a French Syrah from the Rhone Valley.

The Aurelien Chatagnier Rhone IGP Syrah ‘Le Cret Louison’ 2014 is organically farmed and is aged 12 months in used barrels, so the wine boasts some impressive concentration and gamey notes, perfect for duck.

4. Elk

Elk has a similar flavor profile as venison, but is an even leaner red meat. That being said, you’ll want a wine that can really hold its own in terms of structure and bring out the flavors of the meat – something like a Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon is ideal.

Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou ‘Le Petit Caillou’ St Julien 2011 is Dustin’s pick. “Nothing petit about this wine. Lots of muscle and grip to hold up to elk and wash it down with lots of juicy, dark berry flavors.”

5. Goose

Nothin beats fresh goose stew!! #coldwaterquackers #fieldtoplate #goosemeat #goosehunting

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Rich in flavor and texture, goose is often served with sweet sides or sauces. Wilson says to choose a wine that will work with the entire meal, like a Syrah, and Vallin Syrah Santa Barbara County 2013 is a great pairing.

“Vallin takes the Rhône-y road in Pinot Noir-obsessed Santa Barbara, using the cool climate to create aromatic Syrah with lift and cut,” says Dustin. “It’s meaty, peppery flavor knocks it out of the park with goose.”

6. Quail

Arpepe Rosso di Valtellina 2013, made only with Nebbiolo grapes, Wilson describes this wine as “a woodland fairy of a red, fluttering along the forest floor.”

The wine works perfectly with a finicky bird like quail, that has a more assertive flavor than chicken but isn’t as rich and heavy as duck. Instead, the flavor is a bit nutty, perfect for a Nebbiolo or even earthy Chardonnay.

7. Rabbit

For rabbit, Wilson recommends a wine that works with the versatility of rabbit which, although it is considered game, is full of white meat and a milder favor.

His pick is Il Paradiso di Manfredi Rosso di Montalcino 2014. “When Rosso di Montalcino in on – and this one’s on – it offers some of the best value-for-dollar in the wine world. Burgundian Sangiovese!”

8. Squirrel

Squirrel lovers will tell you that this is an under-appreciated meat. Similar in flavor and texture to boar or lamb, squirrel is often braised, so a dry red wine will work both for drinking and preparing squirrel. Something like a Barolo or Shiraz will work.

Want something specific? Dustin says try a Chateau de Pibarnon Bandol 2010, what he calls “an animal of a wine for moments” when you are feeling squirrelly.

9. Venison

One of the more popular game meats, venison is rich and meaty and full of earthy, hearty flavors. So, the wine needs to be something that can bring equally as much flavor to the table but still be able to stand out on its own.

Smoky wines like Syrah and Pinotage will work nicely, as will medium-bodied reds with fruity notes like Côtes du RhôneChâteauneuf-du-Pape, Chianti, Valpolicella, and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

Read More: 10 Reasons Wild Game Has Earned a Spot on Your Table