Grouse about Burgundy.

by Patrick Sandeman

Very generous friends of mine recently invited me to join them for a grouse dinner at White’s club in St James’. Having ordered a very fine Chablis to accompany our starters (delicious smoked eel with a fiery but creamy horseradish sauce) the conversation turned to red wine, and what to drink with our grouse.

Somewhat inevitably claret was the overwhelming choice, in spite of my feeble attempts to steer my hosts towards the red burgundy selection, and a bottle of Langoa Barton 1999 promptly arrived at the table just as the grouse was served. Game chips, bread sauce, toasted breadcrumbs and lashings of gravy dressed the plate alongside the roasted game and made for a challenging foil to the Langoa. Still deep in colour and with plenty of lush fruit the ’99 is a very good Langoa which is drinking well, but ultimately a little one dimensional and on this occasion not really up to the challenge. Discussion turned momentarily to first growths, but even in clubland prices have reached such dizzy heights that we were knocked back to a mere Grand Puy Lacoste 2000. This was more fit for purpose, but it is still something of a behemoth and I could not help but feel we were drinking it before its time, impressive though it was, and that a red burgundy would have been more appropriate. A decanter of Taylor’s 1985 rounded off the evening perfectly before travelling home to Putney.

On the basis that it is much cheaper (by a long shot) to eat grouse when in season, than to shoot them, I always relish doing so at home and so we did this week-end. This time, however, I had the run of my own cellar to chose from and there was no doubt at all about what it would be. Burgundy of course. Three plump little birds were roasted until still just pink, served with a gravy reduction (plenty of amontillado sherry), buttered cabbage with pancetta and walnuts, and game chips. For me, a bottle of Domaine Chandon de Briailles 1995 Corton Charlemagne; now pale in colour, delicately scented, slightly dry with ethereal fruit and vegetal flavours this was a lovely match for the delicate gamey flavours of the grouse. But not for Mrs S, who unfortunately (or not?) has yet to develop a taste for mature red burgundy, preferring the juicy fruit of a younger wine, as she happily settled into a bottle of Mugneret-Gibourg’s 2009 Vosne Romanee.

A brace and a half of grouse and a brace of red burgundy. I cannot think of a better way to spend a Saturday evening on a bank holiday weekend. (Not forgetting the fabulous palate sharpening bottle of Tribut’s 2009 Chablis in the kitchen before dinner!).