The Glorious Twelfth saw the official start of the British game season – on August 12. To celebrate the 121-day event, Times’ wine writer James Viner selects his top five tipples to accompany the best grouse cuts
Last Saturday was the Glorious Twelfth – the day in the countryside almanac
that many foodies look forward to as it signals the start of the country’s four-month British grouse season.
It all started in 1853, and was a pursuit solely for the aristocracy. The introduction of railways around Britain made it easier to get to the outlying moors of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and when breech-loading shotguns became more widely available.
Both red and black grouse are shot, but red ones are considered the most sought after as they represent the supreme shooting challenge. This is because they fly sporadically at speeds of up to 70 miles
an hour, and are also native to Britain.
Not only is the grouse the first feathered game bird of the season, it’s also one of the juiciest. A whole grouse on a plate isn’t to everyone’s taste, and as a nation – of course – our bird of choice is chicken. Gamey in flavour, roast grouse, however, has less than a third of the fat and double the protein of roast chicken. And if you wait a couple weeks, the price will decline.
While the bird itself is a bit of an indulgence in terms of expenditure, it goes a lot further than you might think since the carcass and legs can be cooked up into a gamey gravy, or turned into a rich broth that makes a marvellous base for soups.
Such a special gamey bird can make a great delicacy for a small dinner party, and it calls for a toothsome red with a prickle of tannin. So try sampling one of these…
Must-Try Supermarket Choice:
Te Haupapa Central Otago Pinot Noir 2016, New Zealand (£8.99, Aldi)
You should rush to buy this lip-smacking Kiwi bargain from one of the most capricious red grape varieties because only a small parcel of stock exists, and it exudes undeniable charisma. Raspberries, red cherries and roasted strawberries abound amidst a background tinge of dried herbs and coffee. This pinpoint-accurate concoction will adore the fresh, milder game at the very start of the season, or roast lamb and duck. It is stellar value and a good introduction to the delights of Central Otago Pinot Noir, New Zealand’s only wine district with a continental summer climate, which grows the world’s southernmost vines. You simply must hunt this wine down. Alc 14%
Spicy Syrah from New Zealand’s Oldest Wine Producer:
Mission Estate Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2015 (£10.95, The Wine Society)
This vibrant Syrah has lashings of class and boasts a refined, perfumed nose with cracked black pepper, plums and blackcurrants. Notes of spice and sweet dark berries flood the juicy palate, underpinned by a surge of ample, soft and finely polished tannins, which provide balance. Step up to this star red with medium-rare roast grouse or a meaty BBQ. It’s unbridled pleasure in a glass, with a gratifyingly long finish defined by pristine acidity. Delicious! Alc 13%
Benchmark Northern Rhône Red:
Crozes-Hermitage 2014 Cave de Tain l’Hermitage, France (£11.49, Majestic)
Syrah’s original, and ongoing yardstick is the Northern Rhône in France. Pure, fresh aromas and flavours of red raspberries and black cherries are the driving forces in this exceptionally fine Crozes-Hermitage, which is pure, pretty, and pleasing at every turn. With a tickle of spice, black pepper and a bright, focused finish, this is a wondrous gamey wine – and not a blockbuster – that shows off the true potential of this famous appellation. Drink it with traditional roast new season grouse accompanied by game chips, gravy and bread sauce, or a midsummer meaty BBQ. It’s also perfect for a venison casserole a little later in the year. Classic cool climate style from a quality-conscious cooperative and an early-maturing vintage. Serve very lightly chilled.
High-Street Choice Claret:
Diane de Belgrave Haut-Médoc 2011, Bordeaux, France (£19, Oddbins)
What better way to celebrate the arrival of appetising game dishes than with a wine which bears the name of the handsome Diana, Roman Goddess of the Hunt? Enjoy the first grouse of the season with this stylish, juicy claret, which has a wealth of red fruit and chocolate aromas touched with a hint of spice and youthful tannins to complement the lean dark meat of late summer game, especially partridge and grouse.
It’s the second wine of Dourthe’s Classified Growth property, Château Belgrave, previously a royal hunting lodge esteemed for its game-rich woodlands dating back to the reign of Louis XV. Lighter than the 2010, but equally delicious, this has class stamped all over it in big letters from end to end. If you’re interested in splashing out, it will startle you with its class. Decant and delight in its scented majesty.
Must-Try Red for
Chateau Musar 2001 Lebanon (£28-£29.70, Roberson Wine & Majestic)
This unmistakable mature Levantine red from 40-year-old vines in Lebanon’s elevated, near-desert Beqaá Valley is perfectly suited to well-hung grouse and other feathered game later in the season. It’s a celebrated (and, yes, gamey!), quirky full-bodied blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and Cinsault, with a long and well-framed finish. Developing, utterly fascinating and complex, it’s worth every penny – just make sure there is plenty of meat to go with it.