When you ﬁrst stop and think about this rather unusual aroma term in the wine world, so far apart from the myriad fruity notes in wines, you begin to wonder what the smell of game has to do with ﬁne wines. And as you ponder this almost philosophical point, you begin to be thankful for the clue implicit in the name, for wines with this note can indeed be beautifully synergistic with strongly ﬂavoured meats. There is one point in which you can exult, if you are sure that you can detect a heavy gamey (gamy) note in the aroma of a wine - it is very probable that the grape is the ﬁckle Pinot Noir (unless that is, the wine in question has ‘gone off’).
Game refers to the red meat from wild animals, including wild deer, wild boar, wild rabbits, and many types of wild birds, including pheasant. In tropical countries a much richer array of game is available including bush meat. In general, raw meat has an uninteresting aroma or ﬂavour and mankind has learned to ‘hang’ meat so that it can develop mouth-watering ﬂavours and aromas. If you are a biochemist, you would recognize the procedure of hanging meat in a controlled environment as a precise and controlled degradation of the natural polymers in the muscle tissue. The proteins break down into complex mixtures of smaller molecules called peptides and the fundamental amino-acids. The complex carbohydrate glycogen breaks down into simpler sugars. The fat in the meat, long recognised as a source of potent aromas, is degraded ﬁrst into the long-chain fatty acids and then further into the fragrant and heavy smelling lower fatty acids. This complex sequence of chemical reactions is still not fully understood. It is due in part to the enzymes in the muscle tissue and in part to enzymes produced by bacteria. Hanging is still as much art as science and a good butcher must become master of this key step in the production of game ﬁt for the table.
The aroma of game which is relevant to wine is the smell of the uncooked meat or the smell of the atmosphere in a temperature controlled room in which the game is hanging. It is not the mouth-watering and delicious aroma from cooking meat. Apart from the strictest vegans, few of us can resist the siren scent call of the fumes from roasting meats, especially at some distance down-wind. When meat is heated, the simple fats and sugars and peptides and amino-acids all react together in the most unholy and promiscuous multi-chemical reactions, producing a bewildering variety of highly fragrant molecules which do not occur in uncooked animal tissues. Many of these molecules fall into a family of molecules called the heterocyclics and these molecules are amongst the most powerful smells for the human nose. How and why we have evolved to take such ultimate delight in the smells of such molecules - the product of heating ﬂesh - is largely a mystery.
Developing an aroma solution as an exemplar for the gamey note in our Wine Aroma Kit was extremely difficult. Indeed it would be easier to produce a whole kit of different gamey notes and then let your nose loose on it due to the sophistication of the repertoire of gamey aromas. Just as you can distinguish between the roasted aromas of meat from cattle, sheep, goats, or pigs, so you will learn to distinguish between the gamey aroma styles of the famous Pinot Noir wines. To some sensitive noses, gamey odours are always redolent of decay, and as such act as a deterring olfactory signal. For such folk, Pinot Noir wines are almost out of bounds. As we get older, our sense of smell, like all of our senses, gets weaker, and so you may ﬁnd that a ﬁne gamey note which was unattractive when you were young is now mesmerizingly delicious (and this point is a clue to the logic of hanging game). So, in the same way, you may ﬁnd that elegant Pinot Noir wines which found no favour with you when you were young, may now be particularly pleasing. The level of the game aroma note, which might have been too strong for your young nose, is now exactly matched to the sensitivity of your older sense of smell, and the result is aroma harmony and enjoyment all around. A more reﬁned appreciation of vintage wines is one of the redeeming features of getting old.
See our Wine Aroma Kit for more information.