It’s not easy pairing wines with game. Most kinds of wild game combine strong flavors and subtle flavors – the strong aroma of the meat with nuttiness, a kind of sweetness, and, depending on what the animal has been eating, sometimes a hint of corn or flowers. What you don’t want to do is to smother all that good complexity with a heavily tannic powerful wine that overwhelms the taste of the meat.
Ammunition Wines from Daylight Wine Co. in Sonoma, CA were conceived from the start as a match for game, providing fruity softness with subtle underlying structure – just the right touches for wines to go with your elk, venison or wild fowl.
“We based our winemaking strategy on getting great grapes, and then giving them just a touch of tannin and wood, so that they would remain soft and fruity, and, in this way, support the complexity of cooked game,” Bill Kerr from Daylight Wine Co. explains.
There’s an eagle on the label of the bottles of Ammunition Wine. The eagle, which is drawn in American classic style, was sported as a tattoo by a friend of Bill Kerr, the man who came up with the hunter’s wine concept. That friend taught Kerr’s father to gunsmith, and Kerr to hunt when he was young, and together they did a lot of good shooting, followed by a lot of good eating and wine drinking.
“It had a great influence on me,” Kerr says. “My father met Safari Club International member Phillip Bronkhorst at the SCI event in Las Vegas back in 2000, and in 2001 we took a four-week trip with his outfitting company in South Africa. Over there, we hunted mostly plains game…the standard kudu, gemsbok, impala, eland and zebra. Probably the thing I was most proud of was the 13-inch warthog I took while there. It was an incredible experience for a young man.”
Kerr grew up and became a marketing guru. He worked for years promoting different products, including food and wine. A few years ago he started his own company, BrandMade, which came up with specially conceived products for food and wine lovers.
But Kerr had always wanted to design a wine especially for hunting which he loved. A couple of years ago he found some vineyards that had the kind of quality fruit he was looking for, and started making the wine he’d imagined.
The result is Ammunition Wine, “wines specifically crafted for sportsmen and outdoorsmen with an appreciation for adventure and the finer things in life,” the company says.
Kerr explains the concept: “Each of the three versions of Ammunition wines, the pinot noir, the cabernet, and a blend, are made “soft,” with not too much wood, not too much tannin, but lots of fruitiness and elegance. This is a different approach from most California wines, which seek to have a more by-the-rules, European approach. The change in style makes the wines better for pairing with game.”
The source of the wines is Sonoma County, and it’s an ideal choice for this style of wine. Sonoma County is close to the sea, and that keeps it relatively cool for California. Days are not too hot, and nights are cool, and this is ideal climate for the big fruity grapes used in Ammunition Wines. To the east are the Mayacamas Mountains, and to the south are the rolling hills of the Sonoma Carneros, and this microclimate shelters and nurtures the grapes. As in all great wine regions, a river runs through the country, in this case, the Russian River. The coast and the river contribute fog in the winter and spring that burns off with the sun during the day and develops the natural sugars in the grapes.
Ammunition Wines’ pinot noir comes from a vineyard the Carneros region of the Sonoma Coast, which is at the edge of San Pablo bay.
“This is the perfect country for Pinot Noir, very like France’s Burgundy, although these wines do not have the strong mineral character of Pinots from La Borgogne, rather they are full of California fruit richness,” Kerr points out.
Ammunition Wine makes a red pinot that is very aromatic but soft-textured with a delicately structured elegance that distinguishes this kind of wine. The structure comes from spending a few months in French oak barrels, but never too long a time, so that heavy wooding is avoided. The aging brings out a bit of raspberry and spice in the nose, even a hint of evergreen from the coniferous coastal environment. This is an ideal wine to pair with elk, venison, wild duck or quail, perhaps with South African springbok or reindeer from the North. All of these meats have that sweet-and-sour quality that we’ve described.
Ammunition Wines’ cabernet is sourced from multiple vineyards in the mountains of Sonoma Valley and Alexander Valley, just next to the Sonoma area, and again this is a softer, fruitier cabernet than one finds in Europe. Cabernets need structure, and so the wine is aged for about 20 months in the oak, but this still doesn’t give the wines a hard wooden edge. On the contrary, the natural tannin of the grape comes out in giving a splendid edge to its natural fruitiness. The wine has a touch of pepper in it, but a flowery nose as well, full of blackberry, cherry and tobacco essences combined with hints of apple This is a wine to pair with the strongly flavored meats of big game, or to marinate game in. Or just drink it with a really good steak. Or for more complex dishes: Kerr likes to drink it with a bacon-and-cheese wrapped filet mignon.
The company also makes a rather complex blended wine called The Equalizer: a red blend Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Syrah and Malbec. The grapes are also sourced from
Sonoma Valley and Alexander Valley, and this offers the same advantages. But a blend like this is an oenological tour-de-force, and has to be tasted to be appreciated. It has a complex nose with notes of fig, cherry and cedar. Full-bodied, fruity, with the distinctive soft tannins that distinguish Ammunition Wines. Kerr says that we should drink this with barbecue, but, for us, this is a great wine to pair with wild boar. In fact, my next civet de sanglier will definitely be made with this one.
All the wines are offered in Brandmade’s special bottles, with vintage ammo packaging from the early 1900s. The corks’ foil wraps are done in two-tone metallic to mimic the look of cartridge case heads, for these are “wines of the highest caliber…” Brandmade tells us. Readers should not be deterred by marketing gimmickry however, because the quality of the product inside is formidable.
And the next time you plan to cook some serious game, you’ll find it worth trying.– Andrew Rosenbaum