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Reading Between the Wines: wines for courses of horses

Horsemeat has been unexpectedly turning up in everything recently.

As you can imagine, an unforeseen portion of filly can cause havoc with a carefully selected wine match. It’s an absolute nightmare (with an emphasis on the mare).

All joking aside, the ‘horsemeat scandal’ will probably change a lot of things about the way we produce, sell and consume meat. We can look forward to some of the hallmarks of quality produce – many already common to wine – being emphasised on packaging. Good bottles will tell you what grapes are in the wine, what estate(s) they came from, where they were bottled, and who the head winemaker was that oversaw it all.

So expect the beef packaging of tomorrow to tell you more about the specifics of origin in the future; breed types, the name of the farmer, the fields they were reared in, and which abattoir saw them into the next life. Equally, once the furore dies down (and it will take a while), I expect to see a small spike in our national interest in ‘other meats’, especially horse. After all, we’ve probably all had a wee taste already (whether we know it or not).

If you need evidence to support this wild claim, look no further than one of Glasgow’s longest standing Scottish cuisine restaurants, Stravaigin. The establishment, which espouses the policy “think global, eat local”, has decided to be the first out of the gates in the gastronomic horse race. Yes that’s right, in the past week or so, the restaurant has been proudly serving 100% horsemeat lasagne. “Nom nom nom”, I hear you cry! That’s what the public said anyway – punters galloped through the door in force, and the restaurant ran out of pony faster than you could say ‘Redrum’.

I for one was pleased to see this. I like to think there is something a little bit adventurous about the Scottish appetite. At any rate, I think we consider ourselves more conservative than we really are – just look at the US, where the humble haggis is banned, no less! Horse is perfectly legal here (as long as you don’t call it ‘beef’), so why not eat it from time to time?

Certainly, my first reaction to the horsemeat scandal wasn’t one of outrage, but one of… interest. If I’m being honest, I thought: “Ooh, I could really go a nice horse steak just now”. Of course, for the moment, it remains rather taboo. Not only was I too nervous to enquire about the availability of horsemeat at the farmer’s market the other week (for fear of insulting honest farmers), I expect that my old friend Morrissey will probably never call me again after reading this.

So what has this got to do with wine? Simple – every good foodstuff deserves a discussion of its perfect partner. Historically, horsemeat has been a fairly regular part of French cuisine, and this is a culture that has a thing or two to say about what wines to have alongside your food as well.

It helps to compare the meat to a similar but more familiar foodstuff; however, you might be surprised to learn that beef and horse are not so similar at all. Horsemeat is known for its density, dryness, low fat levels, and a much gamier flavour than beef, making it more comparable to venison – a meat that the Scottish have something of a speciality in. The other distinctive aspect of horsemeat is that it is a little sweeter than venison, so suitable wines can be a little more rounded and lush in character.

My advice would be to imagine you were having Venison in a slightly sweet red wine jus (so obviously, these recommendations would work for that too!). Dark, but vibrant reds work, such as Gigondas and Rasteau from France, Ribera Del Duero or Priorat from Spain, or aged Valpolicella or Barolo from Italy. These are all safe bets, but can be a bit on the dear side, so here are a couple of more affordable numbers…

If on a budget, try Mas De Victor Graciano 2011 (£5.99 at time of writing, normally £8.99, Sainsburys). It shows well on this young vintage, with a nice nose of cooking blackberry jam, and a dark rich palate that balances its rather hot alcohol with velvety sweet tannin.

For something that has settled into its rich character a little and isn’t so vibrant, try Cepa Lebrel Reserva Rioja 2008 (£5.99, Lidl). Oak aging has not mellowed the rich red fruit in this wine too much, and has drawn out something a little more luscious and currant in the undertones and finish.

Château d'Or et de Gueules "Les Cimels" Rouge, 2010 (£10, Oddbins) is a lovely deep purple whirlwind of densely tannic blackcurrant. One of the nicest wee reds you can get for a tenner, and great for food. In one of life’s little ironies, this is farmed using sustainable products, including – you guessed it – horse manure!

There you have it. Once you have been able to source yourself some lovely, butcher-fresh horsemeat, you can confidently answer the question of what to drink alongside it with a resounding “neigh danger”!

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