While hunting around the wine rack to try to figure out what to drink with this moose creation, I was looking for something big but not too high in alcohol, and something flavourful without being too fruity or jammy. Moose meat has a distinct flavour, but it's not a strong-tasting meat like venison is; I usually think of it as being between good beef and venison on the flavour-chart. It's also very lean, and can easily become dry if it's not cooked properly. While there are a few wines that I think are naturals for foods like duck, wild turkey, or venison, moose is so delicate that it takes a special kind of wine to properly pair it.
You might be surprised, then, that the bottle I picked was a California Syrah. I had a bottle that my friend had given me while I was visiting her in Sonoma last spring, and I had been watching it for about a year, wondering when and under what circumstances I would open it. It was the last of the bottles that I brought back with me, and opening each one brought with it the knowledge that no matter how good it was or how much I wanted more, I could not get more - not until I go back to California or wine-runners start ferrying cases across the Great Lakes. Each sip of each bottle had to be cherished; I would not have it again for a long time, if ever. These are difficult circumstances under which to open and enjoy a bottle of wine.
The moose called for something special, though, so I went for it. I took the bottle of Bodega Rancho 2009 Sonoma Coast Syrah gingerly from the rack, brushed off the dust, and told it that it was time. What a delicious decision!
The Sonoma Coast wine growing region is so called because it is right on the edge of the ocean, to the north and on the other side of the mountains that separate Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley from each other and from the coast. This means that even though it's quite close to regions that are very warm, the Sonoma Coast vineyards have different influences from the ocean and the land than the valley vineyards have. According to Bodega Rancho, the Que Syrah (ha! good one) Vineyard, where my 09 Syrah was grown, is foggy in the morning, from cool ocean currents meeting warm air masses over the land, and sunny and warm in the afternoon. The diurnal swing between cool nights and warm afternoons is considered to be important for maintaining acid in the grapes while they ripen. The vines also have to have their foliage trimmed sufficiently through the growing season that the leaves don't cover the grape clusters from the sun - if they do, then the clusters may not ripen properly, or they may become mildewed and rot because of the dampness left from the foggy mornings.
The result of the effort of the vineyard workers and winemakers at Bodega Rancho is a delicious, balanced, elegant Syrah. It was a fist-pump wine. It was a wine that makes you say "whoa, I wish I had more of this," and cry because you don't. It tasted delicious, with focused black fruit, black pepper, cherry, some cured meat, and a hint of dark earthiness prominent on the palate. It was my favourite kind of Syrah, which always expresses itself to me less in flavour and more in an image: a big leather club chair in a darkened library that has a sensuous-but-ominous atmosphere, and which invites you to come, sit comfortably, and linger. I don't think anything could have been a better match for the moose and mushroom pasta. The wine had lots of its own character, and complemented the earthy, simple dish without overpowering any of the delicate moose flavours. It was also juicy and full enough to handle the weight of the pasta. I think it even added to the experience of eating the moose by keeping our mouths watering a bit, making up for the leanness of the meat.
I wish you could get some of this wine and some moose and enjoy them together. Heck, I wish I could as well. If you get some, enjoy it, and let me know where you got it from!
Food Pairing: Moose and mushroom pasta (or moose steak in mushroom gravy with sauteed greens).
Chip Pairing: Hickory BBQ Kettle Chips