Wine Pairings for Upland Birds and Small Game

Wine Pairings for Upland Birds and Small Game
Wine Pairings for Upland Birds and Small Game (Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley photo)

Whether grilled, fried or baked, pair your next small game recipe with the perfect glass of wine

Upland birds and small game include both light and dark meats. Species such as pheasant, quail and wild turkey are on the lighter side of the spectrum while dove and grouse have redder meat. While many of us are used to frying or grilling these birds and downing them with beer, all these meats can be paired with wine, too. Here's my take on it.

Pheasant, Quail & Wild Turkey

Pheasant, quail and turkey are considered light meat. If you do any gun dog training or enjoy hunting in controlled shooting areas, partridge (chukar) will fall in this category as well.

These birds are mild and lean. And much like chicken, they will easily take up whatever spices and flavors you apply to them. So when choosing a wine, I suggest that you pay more attention to how you cooked the bird rather than the bird itself. Depending on what other ingredients you use in your dish, your wine will need to stand up to those flavors as well.

A sweeter wine is generally recommended for heavily spiced Asian dishes, such as spicy Indian curries, Chinese stir-fry or acidic Thai food. Some of my favorite dishes include pheasant pad Thai, turkey pot stickers, pheasant butter chicken, and fried quail with sweet and sour sauce. The sweetness and fruity flavors in German Riesling or Gewürztraminer or a fruity rosé are ideal choices as they are able to offset the salty, spicy and sour flavors prevalent in Asian cuisine. If you fancy some bubbly, the touch of sweetness in Italian Prosecco is also an excellent choice.


But there will be times when you don't want to go too sweet. Some of the dishes I've made with these birds have been on the creamier, richer side. Who hasn't had pheasant in tarragon cream sauce? Or pheasant in mushroom cream sauce? These are classic recipes, and you will need a wine that is zestier, slightly drier and crisp to complement the fattiness of these types of dishes. Choose chardonnay, pinot gris/pinot grigio, chenin blanc, viognier or sauvignon blanc.


I generally stick with white wine when serving these birds, but there are some recipes that do call for more full-bodied reds. If you choose to marinade or baste your meat with a dark, heavier sauce – such as BBQ sauce, char siu, chipotle, tandoori spices – you may want a more robust wine than white. Then when you grill or roast meat, you add the element of fire, which slightly chars the meat or if not, it at least adds a smoky layer of flavor. For smoked, grilled and/or marinated birds, try pinot noir, granache/granacha blends, malbec, shiraz or zinfandel.


For heavier dishes that are tomato- or wine-based and have some acidity, such as wild turkey meatballs with red sauce or stew-like pheasant coq au vin, choose a soft red such as merlot, sangiovese (Chianti) or if you have the money, Burgundy.

Dove & Grouse

Birds such as dove and grouse, on the other hand, have darker meat. I generally don't like to overcomplicate these meats by adding too many flavors to them. They are already flavorful – a bit gamy, and I prefer to let them stand on their own.

Like a good steak, a simple sprinkling of salt and pepper is all these birds need – the doves plucked whole and grouse breasted out; save grouse legs for later to braise, make soup or broth. Sometimes I add a bit of herbes de Provence and Hungarian paprika. Finally, I sear them on the grill or in a pan with a bit of oil to medium rare.


Keep in mind that some grouse species have darker, more gamy meat than others, so choose the wine that best fits your palate. I think darker, full-bodied wines that exhibit black fruit flavors are good foils for these darker birds: merlot (lighter), zinfandel, malbec, syrah, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon or petite sirah (bolder) are good choices.

Recommended for You

Pass on your passion and make hunting fun for children with these tips! How-To

How to Make Hunting Fun for Kids

Jeff Johnston

Pass on your passion and make hunting fun for children with these tips!

Having just the right amount of lightweight gear can make or break a hunt. Find out the best way to pack for a backcountry trek! Camping

What's In Your Backcountry Pack?

Tracy Breen

Sponsored By
Outdoor Sportsman Group
Whether you're pursuing black bears, moose or whitetails, Quebec will put you on the right track. North America

Big-Game Adventure Beckons in Quebec

Lynn Burkhead

Whether you're pursuing black bears, moose or whitetails, Quebec will put you on the right...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 10: Snowbound Chamois

Host Brittany Boddington gets more than she bargained for on what turned out to be a grueling, snowbound and extremely physical hunt for chamois in Romania's Carpathian mountains.

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 16: Cedar Break Bucks

Kevin Steele treks to the cedar breaks and coulees of north-central Nebraska for a shot at a big prairie whitetail.

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 12: High Plains Elk

David Draper teams up with Fred Eichler to hunt elk on the high plains of southern Colorado.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

We evaluate the 6.5 in a real-life case study. Ammo

Is The 6.5 The Perfect Hunting Caliber?

Mike Schoby

We evaluate the 6.5 in a real-life case study.

Follow these basic steps to prepare your meat, then pair it with one of these delicious marinades. Recipes

8 Best Venison Marinades

Hank Shaw

Follow these basic steps to prepare your meat, then pair it with one of these delicious...

These rounds have proven themselves most worthy in the field. Ammo

America's Top 10 Big Game Cartridges

Joseph von Benedikt

These rounds have proven themselves most worthy in the field.

See More Stories

More Recipes

Bright, garlicky chimichurri pairs perfectly with cooked and seared venison tenderloin. This sous vide recipe couldn't be easier and results in an impressive dish with an explosion of flavors in every bite! Recipes

Sous Vide Venison Tenderloin With Chimichurri Recipe

Emilie Bailey

Bright, garlicky chimichurri pairs perfectly with cooked and seared venison tenderloin. This...

Black bear meat is dark and rich, and delicious ground up in this Pâté chaud recipe.

Vietnamese Black Bear Pâté Chaud (Meat Pie) Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

Black bear meat is dark and rich, and delicious ground up in this Pâté chaud recipe.

A comforting soup recipe featuring lean rabbit meat, vegetables, and thick dumplings in a homemade stock. Recipes

Rabbit and Dumplings Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

A comforting soup recipe featuring lean rabbit meat, vegetables, and thick dumplings in a...

See More Recipes

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save.

Temporary Price Reduction.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.