Save your timid reds for other birds, duck demands a wine that’s bold. Chicken and Cornish game hen can be paired with pinot noir and Beaujolais, maybe a Chinon or a Bourgueil from the Loire Valley. But for a duck, don’t be shy. Leave your mild-mannered reds behind and rustle up a bottle of syrah, grenache, malbec or tempranillo.
Most duck dishes are straightforward or plain enough to allow that treasured red wine to speak at full volume. A wine with explosively bright fruit, good acidity and tannins is just what’s needed for savory duck meat bathed in fat and juices. And because the bird can be cooked in a variety of styles and cuisines, the possibilities are thrilling.
Now is the time to break out that bottle of serious red you’ve been saving for a rainy day — or a duck. And just to get you thinking in the right direction, here are a few intensely delicious reds that would work some magic.
2012 Crocus l’Atelier Malbec de Cahors
You may have tasted malbec from Argentina, but this French malbec from Cahors in southwest France is something different. It has great depth of flavor and an elegance most of the Argentines lack. The fruit is true and deep, with notes of blackberries, dark plums, black pepper, earth and iron. The texture is silky with a beautiful minerality and mature tannins. Tasting the newly released 2012, your mind turns naturally to duck, goose, foie gras and truffles. The Crocus project is actually a partnership between Bertrand Vigouroux, whose family has been producing wine in Cahors since the mid-19th century, and California-based malbec specialist Paul Hobbs, whose work with malbec in Argentina brought new attention to this old grape variety. About $27.
2013 the Ojai Vineyard Grenache ‘John Sebastiano Vineyard’
Adam Tolmach at the Ojai Vineyard is one of the pioneers of Rhone-style wines in California, and this grenache from the John Sebastiano vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills is one of the best wines he’s made from the finicky grape. Vivid and full of character, the 2013 Grenache John Sebastiano Vineyard tastes of raspberries, plums, wild herbs and sweet spices. It has a beautiful balance and texture that makes it an ideal bottle to drink with a roast duck or with duck legs braised in red wine. Go straight to Paula Wolfert’s masterpiece, “The Cooking of Southwest France,” for a recipe. Keep an eye out too for any 2012 left on wine store shelves. $33 to $38.
2011 Bodegas y Vinedos Vega Sicilia Alion Ribera del Duero
(Castilla Leon, Spain)
A gorgeous expression of tempranillo aged in French oak barrels. Dark and explosive with rich flavors of plums, wild herbs and smoke, this is an elegant, seamless wine. Young as it is, it’s drinking beautifully now. It’s fascinating to experience how it changes and unfurls in the glass over a couple of hours. To get this level in California or Bordeaux, you would have to spend double, so while it is not inexpensive, it is a bargain for its quality. Bring on that duck. In Ribera del Duero, of course, they’d be drinking it with the baby lamb roasted in a wood oven. $70 to $80.
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