As the days become shorter and the nights cooler, most people think about hibernating on the sofa in their spare time. For keen hunters like me however, it's time to get outside.
For animals in the wild, survival during these cold months forces them to lower ground, which makes winter one of the best times to hunt (if you're able to handle the atrocious weather, that is).
I certainly don't proclaim to be a world authority on hunting, but swap the salmon rod for the rifle and my success rate seems to increase tenfold. For me, just being in the bush is what makes hunting my most preferred leisure activity.
Venison is the best, but there are others that require notable mention. If you've tried rabbit and thought it tasted a bit like chicken, it's time to step it up in the fast-moving hopping realm. Hare is undoubtedly one of the best red meats money never buys - it is only rarely seen in New Zealand restaurants and almost impossible to find, even from your favourite delicatessen. If you get the opportunity to try this 'pest' - do it. Eating hare may be one of your most monumental food moments (like it was for me).
If you're not into hunting, or not lucky enough to know any generous hunters, there's plenty of farmed game available in the supermarket. When we see venison or cervena on the shelf - it hasn't been living in wild bush seeking food; it has been kept in a very relaxed, no stress environment. This venison is mild in flavour and if you're new to this meat, it is a great place to start.
The other main game animal we find in the supermarket is duck. The duck found on the shelf is a Peking duck (no relationship to the Asian duck dish) and it can't fly. So again, the flavours are a lot more subtle than from those that fly around in the wild.
Now that you are an expert on the difference between what we get in a supermarket versus what we get in the wild, I can start to make some wine recommendations. To be fair, I don't think there is any need to differentiate wines for wild and farmed animals, just understanding the difference between the meats is the key.
Duck screams pinot noir. For a suitable wine match I would look to something from Marlborough - something quite 'fruit-forward' such as the Wither Hills Pinot Noir (RRP $29.99) is a good example. This wine is an absolute fruit bomb in the front of the palate and it's this cherry fruit that matches duck so well. The wine is again light in the tannins, but rich in the mouth - ensuring a harmonious match.
Venison is a little different to duck in how it is presented at the table - it should always be served rare. If it is overcooked, it can be a little tough and chewy. Don't let this stop you, but remember that you can never take it off the grill too early. Even if the meat has only been seared on the outside it will look and taste like a chef of 30 years' experience has prepared it.
Venison can be quite forgiving with wine matches, so pinot noir, merlot and syrah are obvious choices. Here we are looking for succulent wines that have tremendous flavour - without the big alcohol and tannins. Try the Trinity Hill 'The Gimblett' (RRP $36.99) for that perfect dinner match for someone special.
This brings us all the way back to hare. It's the one game meat that when you try and tell someone how good it is, they have this bewildered look on their face. Tell them it's a red meat and they become even more confused. If you have not tried hare, the best thing to do is not start thinking of it as an oversized rabbit. Rabbit meat is white, but hare meat is red - so you begin to see where the confusion arises.
In a recent UK survey, only 30 per cent of respondents said they would try hare if it was dished up to them and only 1.6 per cent had ever heard of the most famous of all dishes - jugged hare (a 500-year-old recipe that is basically a mushroom and hare stew with a moreish and rich sauce).
For hare I would look to a Central Otago pinot noir, this is Provenance at its best. Pinot grows so well in Central Otago and hares so well in the plains of the Mackenzie Basin. Try a Huntaway Pinot Noir (RRP $23.99) for a decadent match to remember.
I would suggest trying hare next time you are in a restaurant and see it on the menu - and I would love you to tell me what your thoughts are if you have been lucky (or brave!) enough to have already tried it?
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