What do you pair with muskrat?

I, like many wine enthusiasts, love the challenge of finding the right wine to pair with a meal.

Many people start with this simple axiom: white wine with white meat; red wine with red meat – not a bad starting place as few things taste better than a citrusy Sauvignon Blanc with mussels, or a robust red with steak grilled over an open fire.

Beyond that, I like to match regional foods with regional wines; for example, when I cook lamb, I think about what wines come from regions that raise lamb.

Quite often, grapes that grow near grazing lambs go remarkably well with them … so reds from Australia, northern Spain or New Zealand would be good accompaniments.

The same is true for the whites of Bordeaux where the Girone River meets the sea; again, New Zealand, coastal areas of Italy and lovely Spanish whites such as Albarino, a somewhat obscure white that matches perfectly with the seafood dishes of Spain’s north coast.

In the Yukon, I have enjoy finding the right wine for local dishes: mostly game meats shared by generous friends. After thought and experimentation, I found that Australian Shiraz is a terrific accompaniment for moose.

This makes sense: the Syrah grape wine (the European name for Shiraz), from France, is one of the constituent grapes in the Rhone area of Eastern France (also a popular hunting region) Syrah or shiraz grapes are no strangers to the distant European cousin of the moose: venison.

But, last week, my friends Mark and Jally stumped me. Jally returned, from her visit in Old Crow, with gifts of meat – elk and caribou. I had ideas for those, but the third one stumped me – muskrat.

We decided just to wing it and see what happened. Coincidentally, I had spoken to a Toronto friend, earlier in the day, who told me about a new Argentinean red – Fuzion – that people were buying by the case.

Imagine my delight when I walked into our local liquor store and found several cases. Kevin Murphy, the store manager, tells me this was a chance purchase, but he expects to have more this fall.

Fuzion, a new attempt by an Argentinean vinery, marries Argentinean Malbec grapes with the more familiar syrah (shiraz) grapes.

With this approach, they are following in the successful footsteps of Italian winemakers who are blending indigenous grapes with traditional French varieties. Fuzion is 50 per cent Malbec, 50 per cent Syrah and the two work well together.

So how does it taste? and, more to the point, did it work well with Muskrat?

Well, the wine is impressive (for under $12) and has three things that make for good wine:

1. It has a noticeable and pleasant bouquet (smell) before you drink it. In a good wine, the bouquet is almost the best part about tasting as you get this wonderful sensory input before the first taste – like that moment, as a child, on Christmas morning before you tear the wrapping on your first present.

2. The taste has depth and complexity; it has a beginning, a middle and an end, and as it first touches your tongue, the taste is on note. As it crosses the middle of your tongue, it has different notes and, as you swallow, it has a further, different experience.

3. It has a finish. After you swallow, there should still be some residual taste — the ghost of the mouthful you just swallowed, which you should be able to detect with your tongue and nose.

Fuzion has all three with the tart, dry taste of the Malbec juice given its depth, fruit flavours and complexity by the Syrah. The Malbec is the skeleton that gives it “structure”; the Syrah gives it “flesh”.

However, it didn’t work well with muskrat.

But as I worked slivers of muskrat off the bones (Jally had slow cooked it in a crock pot with beef broth, onions and a bay leaf), the meat had a distinctly vegetative flavour that reminded me a little of watercress.

Quite frankly, I’m not sure which wine would have worked. Because of its size, I found muskrat a rather finicky mouthful – lots of small bones and not much meat.

It was fun to try – particularly with my daughter (visiting from the states) – but not really fun to taste. I know it has its proponents and it’s likely we weren’t cooking it the way many would suggest.

By contrast, Fuzion was terrific with elk and caribou.

Both were marinated and cooked on wood spears over the barbecue. The caribou had a stronger, “gamey” flavour with taste notes that reminded me of iron. The elk was closer to steak, but both were delicious and perfect with the Malbec backbone and richness of the Syrah grapes.

I’m lucky to have friends such as Mark and Jally who share Yukon treats and experiences. And it was fun to find a wine so currently and deservedly popular. Give Fuzion a try.


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