Drink: Game, set and match

When it comes to tracking down game, the hunter-gatherer in me extends no further than crossing the road to the butcher. I prefer to let someone else get their hands dirty. Like any good wine collector, though, I'm a bit of a hoarder, squirrelling away, as it were, a partridge or two in the freezer and bringing it out as an occasional treat. I'm down to my last bird, so autumn means that it is time to re-stock. I'm not alone. The Portuguese winemaker João Portugal Ramos, who likes to marinate his defrosted partridge in white wine, claims that Portuguese red is the perfect accompaniment to the bird. I would certainly have no hesitation in recommending the exuberant, brambly
2005 Churchill Estates Douro red, £8.99, buy two = £7.19, Majestic, as a great match for partridge.

One of the pleasures of autumn is hunting down the perfect foil for game. But it partly depends on whether it's fowl or game of the non-feathered variety. Fowl, being the more delicate of the two, benefits from a fragrant and equally delicate match – and pinot noir automatically springs to mind. Not necessarily red burgundy, but rather New World pinot noir, which tends to be richer and more generous in its red berry fruit flavours and is better able to stand up to a sauce combining sweetness and acidity, such as Mark Hix's crab apple sauce. If you're on a strict budget, the best value I know of is the mulberryish 2006 Cono Sur Reserve Pinot Noir, a mere £4.99, down from £6.99, in Tesco's Autumn Wine Festival, while Somerfield is selling it at £5.99, also till 9 October.

Regular readers will know that I'm a fan of New Zealand pinot noir, because of its combination of generous fruit richness and classic close-to-burgundian flavours. One of my favourites, and not overly priced for the quality, is the sumptuous 2005 Wild Earth Pinot Noir, around £16.95, Bennetts Fine Wines (01386 840392), Harrisons Fine Wines (0845 058 0021), The Secret Cellar (01892 537981), Wimbledon Wine Cellar (020-8540 9979), because it's full of the raspberry qualities of pinot noir. New Zealand doesn't have it all its own way with pinot noir, as many of Victoria's cool-climate regions are increasingly demonstrating. The 2 004 By Farr, Geelong, Victoria, £18.90, Tanners Wines (01743 234500), is a scented red, classic and mouthwateringly savoury and with such perfect-for-partridge gamey undertones that I thought it was a stylish red burgundy when I tasted it blind recently.

My ideal partner for the darker, stronger grouse with Mark's bread "sauce", would be an Italian red such as the 2004 Brancaia Tre, Rosso Toscana, £12.50, Hailsham Cellars (01323 846238, www.winedirect.co.uk), made from a trio of grapes dominated by the sweet and sour cherry richness of the sangiovese with a stylish international twist of merlot and cabernet. An ideal alternative would be the Spanish 2004 Pago de Carraovejas Crianza, Ribera del Duero, £25, or £20 each when you buy two, Majestic Wine, whose vibrant red fruit tones and vanilla-cedary oak combine superbly. For venison (or ostrich), the Rhône's syrah (Australia's shiraz) comes into its own, notably the blackberryish, pepper-tinged 2005 Vacqueyras Les Christins, £9.99, Waitrose. If you're in the mood to push out the boat, Isabel Ferrando's youthful 2005 Saint Préfert Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Collection Charles Giraud, £33.10-£36, Gauntley's (0115-911 0555), Bentley's (01584 875520), Uncorked (020-7638 5998), A & B Vintners (01892 724977), is a magnificent wild beast, a voluptuously fruited blend of old vine grenache and mourvèdre, whose spice-laden core of liquid cherry fruitiness will have you hunting down more.

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