I'm an avid pinotphile and lover of game. The grape and the bird have a special synergy. However, on this occastion, I’ve turned my back on pinot noir for a moment to share six tasty dishes paired with some more eclectic drops. 

Spanish Quail with grapes + 2016 Marques de Riscal Reserva, Rioja, Spain, A$27

I have a battered edition of María José Sevilla’s book Spain on a Plate. None of her dishes are too fancy, but all of them are delicious. Her quail recipe sees the bird wrapped in jamon to keep it moist with fresh grapes added to give a refreshing lift. Rioja is the natural fit but modern Rioja can be bold and brash while I prefer a traditional, medium weight style with subtle, savoury flavours. The Marques de Riscal is just that, its cute golden cage an added bonus. 

Thai spicy BBQ Quail by food writer Emma Knowles + Singha Beer, A$5 (330ml)

I fondly remember eating barbequed quail from a street stall in Hanoi paired with a local beer. Casting around for recipes for this article, I came across a Thai version by Emma Knowles. It’s a simple recipe with an herb and lychee salad adding panache and the lemon pepper dipping sauce an extra zing. The crisp, refreshing Singha completes my (pre-Covid) travel memories.

Gordon Ramsay’s Pheasant Casserole + 2020 St Damien Plan de Dieu Côtes du Rhône Villages, Rhône Valley, France, A$35

I was lucky enough to eat at Claridge’s by Gordon Ramsey in 2002. It was a truly marvellous experience. Pheasant isn’t a common bird in Australia and so the chance to try Ramsey’s rustic casserole could not to be missed. As always, a pinot/Burgundy would have been fine but Claridge’s prices were as fancy as the décor. A good value Côtes du Rhône fitted the bill, its lithe frame and umami flavours in tune with the gutsy colcannon. Try the combination for your Christmas in July festivities. 

Gabriel Gaté’s Guinea fowl with spinach and pears + 2020 Bernard Metrat Constance Chiroubles, Beaujolais, France, A$34

I’m no sporting fan but enjoy watching the Tour de France race for the wonderful scenery and the food segments, currently hosted by Guillaume Brahimi. Harking back to earlier times is this guinea fowl recipe from former host Gabriel Gaté – a long-time resident of Australia with an accent as thick as Brahimi’s. The wine recommended by accomplished sommelier Christian Maier was a juicy Beaujolais. Gamay is the rustic cousin of pinot noir and so this selection helps satisfy my pinotphile cravings. I’ve notched up the pairing with a Cru Beaujolais. 

Curtis Stone’s Roast Turkey + 2019 Philip Shaw Wines No. 17 Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc, Orange, A$28

Much closer to home and more available than pheasant is turkey, traditionally a Christmas stalwart but equally delicious in winter. A pinot noir or sparkling shiraz would work well but to match Curtis Stone’s recipe I’m going off piste. Dan Shaw’s Bordeaux-inspired No. 17 is a modern take on an old-school claret. The tannins are modest but sufficient to mop up the flavoursome bird and its all-important gravy.  

Squab with bitter chocolate sauce + 2017 Salomon Pfaffenberg Reserve 1er Erste Lage, Kremstal, Austria, A$96

My final pairing dates back to February 2000 at the inaugural Frankland Estate International Riesling Tasting. The gala dinner was held at Sydney’s Banc Restaurant, with Matthew Kemp on the stoves. The squab he cooked was suitably pink and moist, and the addition of a bitter chocolate sauce was a masterstroke. The late Eric Salomon provided a special wine for the night –
a riesling, of course. The vintage was 1954 and it was a 46-year-old vinous miracle. The 2017 is more youthful but the partnership of squab and riesling perfectly apt.