Wine — What To Drink When You Eat Wild

And you thought nothing went with squirrel

By Tim Protzman

Being a wino and a gourmand, I usually come out on the politically incorrect side of using animals for food.

A flock of wild turkeys, while stately and wonderful in their natural woodland setting, brings an afterthought—how would they taste in a honey mustard marinade, served with home made succotash and a fruity, bold Australian shiraz-cabernet? Little lambs, no matter how cute and friendly, always bring the faint hint of mint jelly to my lips. A pond full of ducks or even a glimpse of cartoon ducks on TV reminds me of a canard in a zesty orange sauce and great old burgundy. Only Sponge Bob fails to whet my appetite. Unless he’s cooking a Krabby Patty. I’d like to be more vegetarian, but I was raised this way. But two legal developments give me hope about where we draw the line in treating animals and reveal our kinder, more spiritually nature.

California has banned the practice of force feeding geese and ducks to produce foie gras and England is on the verge of banning foxhunting.

Foie gras comes from geese and ducks that have been fattened in captivity. The ancient Egyptians started the practice 4800 years ago in the marshes of the Nile Delta. It’s pretty much unchanged. A goose is force fed so its weight and body fat increase. The Egyptians fattened and ate the whole goose, usually at festivals and celebrations. The goose was held by the neck and roasted grain and water were forced into its mouth. Today, the practice is called gavage, which comes from the French, to stuff, but the French learned it from the Romans, who learned it from the Greeks, who got it from the Egyptians. The Romans fed their geese chopped dates and were the first to extract the liver as a separate delicacy. They were into that kind of thing and even divined the future by examining the entrails of a sacrificed animal in a practice called extispicy. The Romans passed the culinary history and the practice of gavage on to the French, where it continues in Alsace (on the German border) and Gascony (near the Spanish border).

The liver of a fatted goose is 6 to 10 times larger than a regular liver. The foie gras is grilled or made into a pate or terrine. The quintessential wine to be paired with foie gras is a sauterne, a rich sweet wine made from botrytis-ized grapes, which have developed a mold that concentrates the sugar and flavor.

The cruelty of gavage has prompted California to ban the practice starting in 2012. The new law was championed by such celebrities as Sir Paul McCartney, Kim Basinger and Tina Yothers. The law also bans the sale of foie gras from forced fed birds. Governor Schwarzenegger signed it on September 29.

The eight year phase in period is designed to give foie gras producers enough time to find a cruelty-free way of fattening the birds. Sonoma, an important wine region, also produces tons of foie gras. A similar ban is being considered in Albany, NY, and is aimed at foie gras farms in the Hudson Valley.

The future of foie gras maybe genetically enhanced birds with powerful appetites or perhaps some type of artificial appetite stimulant. Maybe nearby Humboldt County, California, with its lucrative marijuana crop, could donate some buds and seeds and then flocks of stoned birds would naturally gorge themselves on grain and Oreo’s, to alleviate their munchies. Or perhaps the popularity of foie gras will wane.

Until then pair your foie gras with an affordable, yet pedigreed sauterne like:

2001 Château Lamothe-Guignard Deuxieme Cru (Second Growth, 1855 Classification) $27.49—Very sweet with butterscotch, vanilla pudding and cider flavors. Can also go with any dessert. Serve in a small fluted goblet.

Meanwhile, a bill is before Parliament to ban fox hunts. Scotland banned it two years ago and it will most likely be banned in England by 2008. It’s a spectacular sport with liveried riders in scarlet, white and black thundering across the heath chasing a pack of dogs chasing a fox. Once the fox is caught the cruelty sets in—it’s torn to pieces by the dogs. That part is rarely depicted in hunt literature. Fox hunting is still popular in Ireland, France, Italy, Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, where Main Line swells, du Ponts and poseurs all “ride to the hounds.”

The fun factor of the hunt lies in a) a brisk mid-morning ride and b) the hunt breakfast, served after the hunt.

A hunt breakfast is a big affair. Eggs, bacon, fruit, kippers (smoked herring), sausage, toast, muffins, porridge, grilled tomatoes, devilled kidneys, hash browns or fries and a smoked cod curry called kedgeree are served. Traditional libations are Scotch whiskey neat (no ice), port and Champagne. Lately the Bloody Mary has crept in.

Jameson’s Irish Whiskey is a smooth, peaty liquor that’s perfect for late morning consumption. It’s less fiery than its Scottish counterparts and it mixes better with coffee.

For the perfect Bloody Mary use Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and horseradish with the tomato juice. Garnish with a lemon instead of the celery stalk, which is really only good as a swizzle stick. Forego the Port and Champagne as they’ll only harsh your buzz, and on most English Manors you won’t get another drink till 7pm, the traditional cocktail hour. Plus, the Peerage is notoriously cheap and the breakfast wines won’t compare to the dinner time selection.

Here are some other game delicacies and their suggested wine pairings.

Venison: Let’s face it deer are a problem. They eat your shrubs, try to get in your house and run in front of your car. Once in your home they’ll eat all your candied apples before crashing through the patio slider, all junked up on sugar.

Serve them with a pinot noir like Truchard Carneros Pinot Noir, for $25.9. Hints of licorice and cherry candies, grape juice, chocolate and toffee.

Ostrich: Is a very lean, but flavorful, dry meat. Serve with a zinfandel, so the low tannins compliment the meat. Robert Strong Knotty Vines North Sonoma Zinfandel, $16.99. Big fruit, with a hint of cayenne pepper and raisins.

Squirrel: My father survived the Great Depression on squirrel pie. Serve with a nice shiraz to balance the gaminess. (squirrel tastes like the things that come in the plastic bag inside of a roasting chicken.) Greg Norman Limestone Coast Shiraz from Australia, $14.99. He used to golf, now he makes wine close to the famed Coonawara Valley. Subtle and elegant with persimmon, blackberry and hints of raspberry.

Moose: A great big moose demands a great big wine. Pio Cesare Barolo from Italy’s Piedmont region. $32.29. Fruit and structure with a bit of leather, cinnamon and currant.

As more and more cruel foods are banned in America, look to France to supply exotic culinary cravings. President Jacques Chirac’s favorite is Tete de Veau. The head of a calf, taken off the skull and served with a mustard vinaigrette sauce with pickles, shallots and capers.

But even France has its forbidden food. Take, for example, ortolans, a tiny sparrow like song bird that’s roasted whole after being plucked and drowned in cognac. The piping hot bird is then shoved into the mouth while wearing a linen napkin draped over your face. Ortolans are an endangered bird and a special license is needed to harvest them, but that doesn’t stop the illegal trade. They’re served with a red wine and truffle sauce and the napkin is used to “hide from God” during this decadent feast. Former French President Francois Mitterand reportedly ate them as he lay dying from cancer. Finding the perfect wine match is difficult. The Sommelier at Alain Ducasse at the Essex House in New York suggested a well-aged Chateau Leoville-Poyferre ($225) or a Hermitage ($190) from the Rhone Valley.

Tell Tim your wine stories. You can reach him at

Find the wines discussed in Hippo’s food section at state liquor stores. For exact locations of your favorite juice, go to

—Tim Protzman

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