Wine

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With Bob Luck’s Ken­tish cider no longer avail­able, Jonathan Ray finds some new bot­tles to suit those sea­sonal child­hood favourites

WHEN asked the other day what she would like for her birth­day feast, my sainted mother – who still, at 90, cooks a mean three­course lunch – an­swered sim­ply “Game”. She has al­ways loved game and the fact that she was born on 1 Oc­to­ber must surely have some­thing to do with it. Cer­tainly, the ma­jes­tic pheas­ant re­mains her favourite bird and no­body has ever cooked it with chest­nuts the way she used to.

I re­mem­ber, how­ever, that when I was grow­ing up and we lived near Hawkhurst, Kent, the game dish she cooked most of­ten was a won­der­fully rus­tic cre­ation she called Ken­tish Pigeons.

We al­ways had a sur­feit of said bird, largely be­cause the lo­cal rat and mole catcher had a crush on Jen­nifer, our house­keeper, and would bring sev­eral brace of pi­geon each week as love to­kens. Salmi of pi­geon ac­counted for some of this weekly haul but since my mother used only the breast for this stew she would mince the rest of the bird to make a fab­u­lously rich and dark pi­geon pâté, sealed with but­ter.

How­ever, since my fa­ther for­bad us to have a freezer in the house (or any tinned or packet food, for that mat­ter, apart from sar­dines, which he im­ported him­self di­rect from Por­tu­gal, and Smash in­stant mashed potato, for which he had a per­verse fond­ness), we couldn’t keep such dishes for long and so they be­came a chore both for my mother to cook and for us to eat.

I never tired, though, of Ken­tish Pigeons, maybe be­cause my ma came up with the recipe dur­ing the early death throes of Mr Rat-mole’s courtship of Jen­nifer and the sup­ply of free pi­geon dried up soon af­ter­wards.

It’s a sim­ple recipe but oh so tasty and hav­ing been re­minded about it the other day and not hav­ing had it in yonks, I gave it a go at the week­end. So, as per my mother’s in­struc­tions, I bunged four oven-ready pi­geon into a casse­role with one large, sliced onion, three sticks of cel­ery, a pound of peeled, cored and sliced ap­ples (when I was young it was al­ways wind­fall ap­ples, which it was my duty to gather), a pint of medium cider (in those far-off days my mother would only use the no­to­ri­ously po­tent Bob Luck’s Ken­tish cider) and also salt, pep­per, bay leaf, grated nut­meg and cayenne pep­per.

I cov­ered and cooked the casse­role at 150°C for two hours and then puréed the onion, cel­ery and ap­ple with a blender, adding a splash or so of Worces­ter­shire sauce to make a de­li­ciously sweet/tart sauce, gar­nished the dish with flat-leaf pars­ley and served.

I blush to tell you that it went down an ab­so­lute storm. The young washed it down with Wob­ble­gate Cox & Bramley Ap­ple Juice, the ado­les­cents with Wob­ble­gate Brighton Rocks Tra­di­tional Sus­sex Cider and the grown-ups a bot­tle or so of de­li­ciously rich and toasty 2014 Mor­gen­hof Es­tate Chenin Blanc from Stel­len­bosch, South Africa (£12; Waitrose).

I would nor­mally have a red with pi­geon but I feared the sweet­ness of the ap­ple would bug­ger it about and the Chenin was creamy and tex­tured enough to cope, added to which there was a del­i­cately honeyed hint of sweet­ness to it be­fore the long, dry fin­ish that matched the ap­ple per­fectly. All in all it was a pretty damn fine combo.

I would also usu­ally serve a white wine with rab­bit. A smooth, sup­ple, lightly scented, slightly oily Pinot Blanc from Al­sace al­ways goes well with roast, stuffed, sad­dle of rab­bit and prunes, for ex­am­ple, while a well-aged white Bur­gundy – not too fancy, some­thing from Ma­con, say – usu­ally fits the bill with rab­bit in a creamy sauce.

Pheas­ant, grouse, par­tridge and veni­son, though, need a red. Pinot Noir is the clas­sic part­ner for the afore­men­tioned game­fowl and works well with veni­son, too. These days I favour Pinot from Ore­gon, New Zealand (Marl­bor­ough, Mart­in­bor­ough or Cen­tral Otago) or Cal­i­for­nia. The 2013 Mar­imar Es­tate “Mas Cavalls” Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast that my host served with veni­son stew the other day was stun­ning: rich, earthy, con­cen­trated and so, so smooth.

And if not a Pinot, then Rioja, ei­ther a fully ma­ture Gran Reserva if funds al­low – soft, smooth, mel­low with plenty of vanilla and ripe red fruit and lit­tle in the way of tan­nins – or some­thing like the de­li­ciously light and vi­brantly fruity 2010 Berry Bros & Rudd Rioja (£12).

And talk­ing of Berry Bros, my old chum Tom Cave, who runs their cus­tomers’ re­serves, swears by smear­ing the sed­i­ment left af­ter de­cant­ing vin­tage port on the toast – or trivet – un­der his roast grouse, or splash­ing on a dessert­spoon of vin­tage char­ac­ter or re­serve port. It adds a de­li­cious touch of nutty, damson-like rich­ness to the dish and leads one very nicely onto hav­ing a large glass of it later.

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