The snipe is a relative of the woodcock and is a small, stocky bird which likes wetlands. Most shoots that have a quantity of rushes within its boundary is certain to have a population present at some time during the shooting season.
They are a notoriously difficult bird to shoot and the snipe gave its name to both the verb 'to snipe', meaning shooting from a hidden place (back in 1773) and the noun 'sniper', meaning sharpshooter (in 1824).
Snipe are excellent eating, tasting halfway between dove and teal and this is a French recipe that is really mouth-watering.
12 snipe split down back
¼ cup flour
salt and pepper
4 tbsp butter
½ cup white table wine
2 tbsp lemon juice
¼ cup blanched, sliced almonds
Dust birds in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Melt butter in a heavy frying pan and sauté birds until nicely browned. Add wine and lemon juice. Cover and continue cooking slowly for 15-20 minutes. Add almonds and cook for 5-10 minutes longer or until birds are fork tender. (Allow 2 snipe per serving).
There are two superb wines that pair well with game birds - Château Cheval Blanc and Pétrus. Along with Château Ausone, Cheval Blanc is Saint Emilion's only other First Growth. The 100 acre vineyard of Château Cheval Blanc is unusual in that it borders the stony plateau of Pomerol and takes on some of those qualities, it spans the gravel ridge which travels across to Château Figeac and also covers terroir typical of Saint Emilion. The grapes grown are also unusual as they are not the atypical Saint Emilion Merlot dominated vines. They are 57% Cabernet Franc, 40% Merlot and small parcels of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines are mythical in their ageing potential and can last for 50 years or more. Cheval Blanc's wines are opulent, luscious and full of finesse. They are approachable whilst young and have notes of blackcurrant, smoke, raspberry, mocha, cherry and leather. The wines are elegantly structured, well layered and due to their ageing potential should be cellared correctly.
Pétrus is one of the most expensive wines in the world and is one of the most celebrated, receiving top scores from wine critics. Although wines from the Pomerol appellation are not classified, Pétrus ranks as a First Growth. The wines of Pétrus are fabulously rich, deeply intense and powerful with great longevity. They have flavours of preserved fruits: ripe mulberries, black cherries and blackcurrants, vanilla, truffles, minerals, smoke and liquorice.
On the same theme – but not carrying the same price tag – Chateau Puyanche (£5.86) would be a good choice to pair with game birds. As Helen Savage says:
“Another good red Bordeaux that’s so modestly priced it’s hard to see where they make a profit." The Journal
Chateau Puyanche is produced in the historic Côtes de Castillon which is now the most fashionable of all the Bordeaux satellites, located east of Saint Emilion and made by a family owned property since the turn of the century. It is a fabulous source of some tremendous value wines with some of Bordeaux's most talented wine producers setting up shop in the area. Puyanche is dark garnet in colour, has smooth tannins and is a supple and complex wine with the aromas of blackberry and plum compotés, raspberries, leather and spices.