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Wine with game

There's something about the earthy, almost primitive flavours of game that evokes winter nights, roaring fires and long, leisurely dinners with friends. Of course, a bottle or two of a good wine completes the picture.

A wonderful partner for most game birds is Pinot Noir, the grape of Red Burgundy. Pinot Noir should have a velvety character and lots of soft, raspberry fruit. Some of the best also have - to put it politely - a "farmyard" aroma that is very distinctive and adds delicious complexity. This set of flavours also works particularly well with any recipe using wild mushrooms.

I really like to partner game with a wine that is itself a bit on the wild side: full of vivid, unexpected flavours and made from unusual grape varieties. Portugal and Italy are masters of such characterful wines and I there are some excellent wines recommended below.

Often, the accompaniment to a dish can influence the choice of wine to serve. Traditional berry sauces or really rich game stocks call for a fruit-packed wine that is not too tannic. Australian Shiraz fits the bill perfectly, but South Africa and Chile are reliable sources of other really punchy, intensely flavoured wines including Grenache, Merlot, Zinfandel and Pinotage.

Choices are a bit more limited if you're looking for a white wine offering a really good match with game. Try a good quality, lightly-oaked Chardonnay or an Alsace Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris. These full-bodied, fruity and vibrant wines are invariably food-friendly.

A round-up of 6 terrific bottles that would be ideal with game follows. UK stockists are quoted, though most of these should be widely available. Prices are in pounds sterling (£5-$8):

Dongajolo 1996 (Majestic, £6.99)
This is a bargain-priced "Super-Tuscan" wine, a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. It has an intriguing, herb-scented nose with hints of tobacco and cherries. The palate displays bright, strawberry fruit and a toffee richness with some chewy tannins in the finish.

Pegos Claros (Portugal) 1993 (Oddbins, £7.99)
This is an old-fashioned beauty of a wine with a distinctive nose of dense, earthy forest fruits. It is richly fruity on the palate too with a great dollop of custardy oak and a nice balance of tannins and acidity.

Paul Dugenais Chorey-lès-Beaune 1996 (Sainsbury, £6.99)
A good quality Burgundy from a great vintage at a reasonable price. It has cream and red berries on the nose, lovely ripe fruit on the palate and a powerful, weighty character with spice in the long finish.

Tesco's Vintage Claret 1996 (£4.99)
Another Old World classic at a bargain price. It has a nose of cedar-wood and summer berries, a broad, soft, juicy palate with chocolaty depth and a peppery finish. Very drinkable stuff.

Two excellent whites to finish with:

Vergelegen (South Africa) Chardonnay 1997 (Sainsbury, £6.49)
This delightful wine exhibits real class with a delicate, boiled-sweet nose, softly oaky palate and bags of lemony fruit. It finishes with a pleasantly spicy kick.

Materne Haegelin Pinot Gris (Majestic, £6.99)
A good example of what Alsace is all about: an aromatic, flower and peach nose, thick, oily, texture and brilliant flavours of amaretti biscuits and mixed spice. This is powerful, gorgeous stuff with good length.