Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Crozes-Hermitage and Venison

A good buddy of mine returned from a trip to western Virginia recently with an entire deer hindquarter, courtesy of his hunting cousin. I wasn’t about to pass up the section he offered me. It was essentially a small "filet," cut from the upper part of the animal’s leg. As good as was the slow-cooked daube that he and his significant other had prepared from the bulk of the leg meat, this portion called out for a quicker, dry cooking technique. After slicing the steak on the bias into four little medallions, I simply hit each piece with salt, pepper and a tiny sprinkle of ground nutmeg. A quick pan sear over medium heat with a bit of olive oil was all it took to reach rare to medium-rare temperature.

When thinking of a wine pairing for game, it’s all too natural to jump automatically into the realm of big, burly reds. But with extremely lean meat like venison, soft tannins, supple texture and generous fruit are the order of the day.

Crozes-Hermitage, Domaine Combier 2003
Laurent Combier grew up in the organic orchard business started by his grandparents. In 1990 he founded Domaine Combier, building on the small vineyard property owned by his parents. He’s since expanded the estate to about 20 hectares, all farmed organically and planted largely to Syrah along with small parcels of Marsanne and Roussanne. His wines, particularly this flagship Crozes-Hermitage rouge, reflect Laurent’s heritage as an orchard man. They do not represent the dark, brooding side of Northern Rhone Syrah. Nor should they ever be associated with the underwhelming, over-cropped or carbonic maceration side of Crozes-Hermitage. Laurent’s wines simply brim with clean, pure fruit.

When first opened, Combier’s 2003 Crozes belied its hot growing season with aromas of fresh crushed raspberry and boysenberry fruit, citrus confit and a light-handed touch of wood. Medium-bodied and lively on the palate, red berry fruit was highlighted by Asian spice notes and well-integrated, finely grained tannins. With the baking spice tones of the wine in mind, I’d intentionally chosen nutmeg as a seasoning for the venison. Not only is it fairly traditional as a spice for deer but I also hoped it would find a natural groove with the wine. I wasn’t disappointed, as it turned out to be a pairing that brought forth an extra depth of savor in both the wine and the meal.

The Syrah held up well into its second day, developing darker, more evolved flavors. Both acidity and tannins had become gentler, letting the riper, darker side of the fruit show through. Though not a candidate for long-term aging, I do think it will continue to develop along a pleasantly mellowing course for another three or four years before its charms begin to fade.

$27. 13% alcohol. Natural cork closure. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ, and Charles Neal Selections, San Francisco, CA.


Anonymous said...

Hi David,

If you ever find yourself looking for a great way to prepare venison, I whole-heartedly recommend following Lex Culinaria's Pistachio-crusted Elk with Wasabi Mash recipe. It works really well with venison too.

David McDuff said...

Sounds great, Sean. This was a small piece of venison and a weeknight dinner so I wanted to keep it short and simple. Next time around, I'll be sure to check out the Lex Culinaria recipe. There are plenty of good game recipes, btw, in the D'Artagnan cook book as well.

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