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Northwest Wine, Beer and Wild Game

The Northwest has always been known for its great hunting and fishing but now it is also becoming famous for its wines and beers.  So if you are going to feast on wild game, it make sense to complement the dish with a good Northwest beverage.  When it comes to wine, beer, and wild game you can enjoy all three without leaving the Northwest and the quality of the wine, beer and game is world class.

The Northwest is the  second largest wine producing area in the nation and is ranked among the world's top wine regions. Washington and Oregon have the largest number of wineries and vineyards in the Region but Idaho, Montana and British Columbia also produce wine. The first wine grapes in the Northwest were planted in about 1825 by the Hudson Bay Company.  There was a major expansion of the industry in the early 1960's and it has grown significantly in recent years.  Today there are over 1,100 wineries and 55,000 acres planted in wine grapes with over 30 different wine varietals produced.

The Northwest has some of the best beers in the country and there is a large variety ranging from the more typical lagers,ales, and stout beers to micro brews and specialty beers.  One of the earliest breweries in the Northwest was founded in about 1878 and it made Rainier Ale. However, the earliest beer made by Americans in the Northwest occurred on October 21, 1805 and was recorded in Capt. Clark's journal:

"one of our party J. Collins presented us with Some verry good beer made of the

Pashi-co-quar-mash bread, which bread is the remains of what was laid in as Stores of Provisions, at the first flat heads or Cho-punnish Nation at the head of the Kosskoske river which by being frequently wet molded & Sowered &c"

Within the Northwest Region there are about 300 breweries with over 200 in Washington and Oregon.  There are 30 American beer styles produced, not including specialty beers and hybrids.


What wine or beer goes best with the wild game dish is largely a matter of personal tastes but there are guidelines that may help you select a good wine or beer to pair with the dish.

Northwest Wines

Different grape varieties have their own  characteristics including color, size, skin thickness, acidity,  and flavors. The factors that affect wine flavor are the type of grape used, the appellation where the grapes are grown, and the  expertise of the winemaker. In the Northwest there is a large selection of varietal wines available and some of the best include:

White Wines:

Chardonnay - a medium to full bodied dry wine that often exhibits flavor and aroma components of green apples, peaches, pears or citrus fruit.  Depending on fermentation, the wine can range, crisp to round and buttery.

Gewurztraminer - a highly aromatic grape that is often described as "spicy".  This full bodied, slightly sweet wine has a characteristic floral nose of honeysuckle with flavors of mango and lychee.  Acid levels of Gewurztraminer commonly are lower than most other white wines.

Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio - a light to medium bodied dry wine that has high acidity with crisp clean flavors of citrus fruits, apples and pear.

Riesling - a light bodied wine that demonstrates delicate flavors of apple, apricot and pear.  Rieslings are commonly slightly sweet wines, but dry Rieslings are becoming more popular.

Sauvignon Blanc - a bold, clean, medium bodied dry wine with high acidity that expresses flavors and aromas that are described as herbal or citric, especially grapefruit.  Sauvignon Blanc is often described as having a flinty or mineral flavor profile.   

Chenin Blanc - a medium to full bodied white wine that is one of the most versatile white wines.  Naturally high in acidity, Chenin Blancs can range from nectar-like dessert wines to bone dry sparkling wines.  Aroma characteristics include honey, melon and green grass with flavors of crisp apple , quince and peaches.

Red Wines:

Cabernet Sauvignon - a medium to full bodied dry red wine that contains flavor characteristics of black fruits such as blackberry, black currant, and black cherry.

Cabernet sauvignon can be highly tannic, lending an astringent edge to the wine.                                 

Cabernet Franc - a medium to full bodied dry red wine that is slightly lower in acidity than Cabernet Sauvignon.  Aroma and flavor profiles of Cabernet Franc contain black fruits, plum and green bell pepper.  Tannins are present though rarely as pronounced as in Cabernet Sauvignon .

Merlot - a medium bodied dry red wine that has a velvety texture that results from the fine grained tannins.  Flavor and aroma profiles are similar to Cabernet Sauvignon though a floral component can sometime be found in Merlot.  Merlot is slightly less acidic than Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Syrah/Shiraz - a full bodied dry red wine that is one of the lowest in acidity of the reds.  Common flavor and aroma descriptors of Syrah include black pepper, anise, leather and clove as well as black fruits.  Syrah is big, rich and chewy.

Zinfandel - a full bodied dry red wine with moderate acidity and often a high alcohol content.  Zinfandel has a jammy fruit characteristic that include raspberry, cranberry, and blackberry coupled with a spicy cinnamon or peppery vein.

Lemberger - a medium bodied dry red wine with a velvety texture and mild tannins.  Lemberger is intensely colored with flavor and aroma profiles that contain black cherry, plum, blackberry with a hint of pepper.

Pinot Noir - a light to medium bodied dry red wine that is high in acid and low in tannins.  Pinot Noir can be rich and creamy, with flavors of ripe red cherries, sassafras and vanilla or lithe and lively, expressing leaner flavors of rhubarb and cinnamon.

Sangiovese - a medium bodied dry red wine that is one of the highest in acidity in red wines.  The predominant grape in Chianti, red raspberry and strawberry are the dominant flavors found in Sangiovese.

Northwest Beers

Many of the Northwest beers have unique names and labels but the major breweries make beer that is consistent with  the following beer styles.



American Pale Ale -  medium body, and low-to-medium maltiness, light with defined hop taste, deep golden to copper color, with a bitterness, spicy flavor, and aroma dominated by hops.  The ale is best characterized by Cascade hops used to produce high hop bitterness, aroma, and flavor

India Pale Ale (IPA) - medium maltiness and body, pale with some hints of copper in the color, flavor dominated by citrusy hops and bitterness, aromas are moderate to very strong.

Amber Ale - Full bodied with malt aroma, color range from amber to deep red hues, ale tends to focus on the malts, but hop character can range from low to high, a balanced ale with toasted malt characters and a light fruitiness.

Extra Special Bitter (ESB) - medium body and medium residual sweetness, color ranges from dark gold to copper, delicate spicy hop aroma which is well balanced by specially roasted malts, ESBs are more balanced bitters, both in alcohol and hop character, malts tend to be more pronounced, often toasty and fruity.  

American Brown Ale - medium body, and a dry to sweet maltiness; color range from deep copper to brown in color, bitterness and hop flavor has a wide range.

Wheat Ale - light to medium body, golden to light amber in color, little after taste, cloudy, long-lasting head; hop flavor maybe be present with pleasant bitterness, finishing smooth and clean.  Similar to a Hefeweizen in appearance, unless filtered.  The wheat lends a crispness to the brew, often with some acidity.

Stout (Porter) - A heavy malted ale, very dark in color, rich taste, distinctive hop bitterness and a fruity acidity.  The range for hop bitterness is quite large but most are balanced.


American Golden Lager - Very light in body and color, American Lagers are very clean and crisp and aggressively carbonated. Malt sweetness is absent..

American Premium Lager - Color may be deeper than the American Lager, and alcohol content and bitterness may be greater. Hop aroma and flavor is low or negligible.

Pilsner - Light body, color ranges from pale  to golden yellow, slight malt aroma and sweetness, slight fruity taste, distinct hop and moderate maltiness flavor.

Wine & Beer Suggestions

Guidelines for selecting wine and beer to complement various meats and fowl dishes relate mostly to domestic animals.  Since wild game has different flavors and much less fat, the pairing may need to be modified.  For example, hearty domestic red meat with fat goes well with a Cabernet Sauvignon wine or Porter beer.  Unless fat is added to a wild game dish it may be better with a less hearty wine or beer such as a Merlot or Brown Ale.

The suggestions in the following two tables have been developed using the guidelines for wine and beer.  In using the tables it is important to note that sauces override the meat and the wine or beer is selected based on the type of sauce.  If your dish includes a sauce you make your selection from the Sauce Table.  If the dish does not include a sauce go to the Game and Fish Table and make a selection.   If you want to keep the variety of wines and beers down to a reasonable number, it is suggested that you select a Merlot, Pinot Noir and a Riesling.   Consider selecting American Pale Ale, Porter and Pilsner for beer.

Selecting Northwest Wine

Selecting a wine that complements the main dish can be a major task if you try to follow all the guidelines for pairing wine and food.  On the other hand you can experiment by using wines you like and selectively applying the guidelines.  In most cases the dish is selected and the wine is chosen to complement the dish; however, the pairing can be reversed.  If you have a wine you like, you can use the guidelines to select the dish, sauce, or cooking method that complements your wine.

There are some general characteristics of wine that can be use to help match wine with food.  The following table contains some of the most important wine characteristics and guidelines that can be used  to help select the best wine for wild game dishes.  Other characteristics such as flavor, aroma, and sweetness can influence the pairing but interactions of these characteristics are a matter of personal preference.

Wine Pairing Guidelines

Wine Body (Light-Medium-Full)

The body of the wine is the weight or viscosity of the liquid and how it feels when its in your mouth.  Light bodied wine feel watery and full bodied wines feel more like cream.

Guidelines -  To complement the dish,  light bodied wine should be paired with lighter foods, and full bodied wines matched with heartier dishes.  A light bodied wine (white or red) will complement fish and a full bodied red wine pairs well with hearty red meats.

Wine Tannins (Low-Moderate-High)

Tannins cause wines to have a bitter or astringent quality which are prominent in red wines. The tannins come from grape skins, seeds, and stems or oak barrels used for storage and aging.  Some tannins may be present in white wines that are aged in oak barrels.  Wines will be less tannic as they are aged and the tannins become mellow and softer.

Guidelines -   Tannic wines go well with low-salt and high fat foods with the fats reducing the dryness of the tannins.  Salty foods bring out the bitterness in the tannins and cream-based foods or sauces make tannins seem more dry or bitter.  Tannic wines can reduce the sweetness in foods.  Wine with high tannins can make fish taste metallic.  Proteins in red meat softens the tannins making the wines taste smooth and fruity.  Note: Wild game has less fat than domestic animals so a full bodied wine high in tannins may taste too dry or bitter.

Wine Acidity (Low-Moderate-High)

The wine acidity  comes from the grapes which contain primarily tartaric and malic and also from the fermentation process.  If a wine is too low in acid, it tastes flat and if too high, it tastes tart and sour. The range preferred by winemakers is a pH of 3.0 to 3.5.

Guidelines - Acidic wines complement almost any food and pair well with acidic foods such as citrus fruits and tomato sauces including creamy foods. They pair well with fish, fried foods, sour dishes, highly seasoned, and salty food.  In contrast, low acid wines often clash with acidic foods.  Wines with high acidity will tend to taste slightly sweeter with high acid foods.  Try to balance the acidity of the wine with the food, otherwise the lower acid component will taste dull and the higher acid component will taste tart.

Wine Alcohol (Low-High)

The body or weight of the wine is directly related to the amount of alcohol found in the wine.  In general, low levels of alcohol (10 to 13 percent) are found in light to medium bodied wine and high levels (14 to 17 percent) are associated with the more full bodied wines.  Low levels of alcohol have little effect on food.

Guidelines-  High alcohol wines are difficult wines to pair with foods and can overpower the dish. Wines with lower alcohol level can be matched to most dishes. Spicy or salty foods  do not pair well with high-alcohol wines. High alcohol wines often pair well with high fat dishes as the fat reduces the intensity of the alcohol.  Also the wines which have strong alcohol content should be paired with red meats that are grilled or roasted. High alcohol content goes well with slightly sweet foods. Light dishes such as fish pair better with low alcohol wines.  Note: Since wild game contain little fat,a wine with high alcohol level may not be a good match.

Other Pairing Guidelines


Guideline - Match the wine to the sauce and not the meat or fish. If the sauce includes a wine, serve the same wine with the dish.

Grilled Red Meat

Guideline - Serve a wine with medium to high tannins.  If the meat is well done, wine with high tannins may taste dry and if the meat becomes charred, the tannins may impart a bitter taste.

Poached or Steamed Dishes

Guideline - Use a light bodied wine that is acidic and contains low tannins.


Guideline - When using wine in marinades, use a good quality wine and it should be the same varietal as will be matched with the dish.  For a stronger flavor, use a full-bodied red and for a more delicate flavor, use a lighter red.

Fried Dishes

Guideline - Select a wine with some acidity to contrast with the cooking oils.


Guideline - The heavy smoke flavor can dominate the flavor of the wine. Smoked meat needs a red wine with moderate to high tannins with some spice and oaky flavor.

Selecting Northwest Beer

In recent years, with the growth of micro breweries and specialty beers, there has been a greater interest in developing guidelines for pairing beer with food.  When pairing beer with food, you should drink what you like but also experiment with the many new beers that are now available.  

Matching beer with food is similar to pairing wine but it is not as complex or finely honed as it is with wine.   To relate beer and wine, think of an ale as a red wine and a lager as a white wine.  Beers with a high hop flavor would be the equivalent to pairing food with an acidic wine.  

In general, choose beers to compliment the flavors of your food  by pairing light meals with light beers and heavy meals with dark beers.  You can also select beer that contrasts with the food and this would require some experimentation and the selection would be primarily base on personal preferences.  The guidelines for matching beer and food relate to the three main ingredients in beer which are malt, hops and yeast.  The following table presents some of the guidelines that are related to beer ingredients:

Beer Pairing Guidelines

Beer Malt

Barley is a grain, similar to wheat, rice or oats but barley is best suited for beer making. The malt contributes flavor, color and body to beer. The flavor is generally sweet, and, depending upon the type of malt used, may be toasty, caramelly, nutty or chocolate-like. Virtually all of the color of beer comes from malt. Some malted barleys are roasted giving additional flavor and color to the beer.

Guidelines - Strong malty flavors and sweet beers pair well with spicy dishes as they tone down the spice and bring out the sweetness of the ingredients.   Beers with roasted malts pair well with grilled, fried, roasted meats, charbroiled steaks and burgers, and blackened chicken or pork. Meats such as pork or chicken often work best with beers displaying a malt accent.

Beer Hops

There are dozens of different hop varieties and each contributes a slightly different character to beer.  Hops contribute bitterness, flavor and aroma to beer and act as a natural preservative The flavors and aromas associated with hops include flowery, perfumy, spicy, herbal, resinous, citrusy and grassy characteristics.  Many important American hop varieties, including Cascade, Mt. Hood, and Chinook, were developed in the Northwest. Nearly 75% of the nation's hops come from Yakima, followed by smaller amounts from the Willamette Valley in Oregon and the Snake River Valley in Idaho.

Guidelines - Beers with hoppy flavors can complement smoked, boiled, steamed or broiled seafood because hoppiness cuts through grease, or anything with acidic ingredient.  Hop flavors can enhance the spiciness of highly spiced cuisine. The more hop bitterness the beer has, the heartier or livelier the meal needs to be.  American hop flavors and aromas are distinctive and spicy. Hoppy beer styles can deliver bright, zesty flavors of limes, lemon-grass, grapefruit and aromatics that enhance the spice in the dish

Beer yeast  

There are two main types of beer yeast - ale yeast and lager yeast but many different strains may be found. Each produces slightly different effects in beer and during fermentation the yeast produces alcohol and carbon dioxide.  The textural components of beer, its carbonation or residual yeast sediments contribute to beer's flavor.  Ale yeast characteristically contribute fruity flavors to the finished beer such as subtle apple, banana, pear and even peach.  Lager yeast ferment best at cooler temperatures and during fermentation, the beer acquires a very smooth and pure character. Lagers are very mellow beer and typically lack the fruity features found in ales.

Guidelines - Yeast provides it’s own flavor and aroma characteristics that are primarily subtle.  Yeast flavors in beer can be enjoyed if the beer is matched with delicate foods such as a delicate soup or pasta or light cheeses. These beers also work well with lightly flavored chicken dishes. American wheat beers and German hefeweizens generally have stronger yeast flavors and are great with lighter foods, like salads and seafood.

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