Wines to pair with pheasant

Pheasant is king in South Dakota, and with opening pheasant season upon us, it is time to think about what wine would go best with this noble bird. Growing up in South Dakota in an avid hunting family, I think I’ve eaten pheasant just about any way you can cook it — poached, roasted, Crock-Potted, grilled and baked. I’ve had it in cream sauces, wrapped in bacon, shredded in tacos and rotisseried on the grill.

As with other types of poultry, pheasant can be paired with many wines. It just depends on the preparation and the seasoning. I’ve chosen two of my favorite preparations and probably the most common ways many of us like to cook Mr. Ringneck.

It wasn’t until I was old enough to realize I actually loved to cook that I started experimenting with ways to prepare pheasant. From the time I was a small child, we only ever ate pheasant the way my grandmother made pheasant. The simple “throw the pheasant in the Crock-Pot and add cream of mushroom soup” recipe was the go-to in our family. I’m sure many of you can relate.

I still cook pheasant this way. Now, I jazz it up with more fresh herbs, portobello mushrooms, onions and whatever else happens to look good on that particular day. This is a recipe that calls for a white wine with just enough acid to cut through the richness of the cream sauce but has enough body to stand up to the fresh herbs and pheasant.

I recently had a bottle of Incognito White from Michael David Winery that was really quite lovely with this style of preparation. It is a full-bodied wine blended with 63 percent viognier, 21 percent chardonnay, 7 percent muscat, 5 percent sauvignon blanc and 4 percent rousanne. This wine has only been fermented in stainless steel, so the pure richness of the fruit and the crisp acidity cut through the fat of the cream sauce and match well with the pheasant. I also marinated the pheasant in this same wine for about four hours before I put it in the Crock-Pot, which helped immensely in making sure the pairing was good.

Pheasant is a little bird with a lot of flavor.

Red wine is also great with pheasant if you cook it the right way. I love to grill game birds. My favorite weapon of choice is our rotisserie on our Weber grill. I like to season the bird with thyme, salt, pepper and a hint of garlic all mixed in olive oil. Take it easy on the garlic as it will really kill a wine if used too liberally. Stuff the bird with more of the same herbs, and add carrots and onion to the cavity. I’ve been known to wrap the bird in several layers of bacon as well, because heck, who doesn’t like bacon?

Red blends are fantastic with a bird prepared this way, and the H3 Les Cheveaux from Columbia Crest fits the bill. The 2010 vintage received a 90 rating from Wine Spectator and is under $15. This Washington wine is 80 percent merlot, 13 percent cabernet sauvignon and 7 percent syrah. Hints of spice play off of the aromatic spices used to season the bird, while the freshness of this young wine really compliments the pheasant itself. It has a surprising richness and long finish for a wine in this price range.

Good luck if you plan to take to the field anytime soon. Be safe and bring home some birds.

Cheers!