of Lamb Roasted in Foil
and Molasses Crusted Spring Lamb
Rack of Lamb with Kumquat Chutney
Braised Lamb Shank
My father never liked lamb, so I never encountered
it until college: my Greek roommate had me over for their family
Easter celebrations, which included a whole lamb roasted on a spit
over an open fire. I had been missing out; lamb offers more flavor
than most cuts of beef, while avoiding the occasional toughness
or overwhelming intensity of mutton. And it goes great with wine.
Traditional lamb dishes can be pretty straightforward when it comes
to wine pairing. For example, Costas Spiliadis’ Leg
of Lamb Roasted in Foil uses classic touches – rosemary,
thyme – to subtly flavor the meat. Any medium to full-bodied
red with balanced tannins is going to work fairly well here; for
a truly classic touch, go with a Bordeaux like the Château
Leoville-Poyferré 1998. It’s got lots of dark
fruit, some cedary spice, and smooth tannins – expressive,
but not over-the-top, so it works well with the straightforward
presentation of the lamb.
But what about when lamb goes off the beaten path?
Asian cooking can make life difficult for go-to pairings like Bordeaux,
Rioja, or many Mediterranean reds. A recipe like Durga Prasad’s
Vindaloo has lots of spice going on: coriander, chiles, cardamom…in
most cases, the tannins of a red wine are going to clash with that
heat. It’s still red meat, though, so a white wine is going
to need some umph to balance well. But no oak, which can also be
unfriendly to hot spices. Alsace whites fit the bill, especially
Pinot Gris, which has great weight and richness. I like the Domaine
Schoffit Rangen Grand Cru Pinot Gris 2004 here. It’s
not a fruity wine – aromas of smoke, macadamia, and mushroom
dominate – and it’s full, almost oily texture cleans
out the heat of the spices and at the same time doesn’t lose
itself to meat’s own intensity.
Another weighty white that lends itself to lamb
is sherry. An old-school dry sherry like the Bodegas Toro
Albalá "Viejísimo" Solera 1922 Amontillado
is more overtly muscular than most Pinot Gris. Whereas the Schoffit
worked by contrasting with the vindaloo spices, I like the walnut
and molasses notes of this sherry as a complement to Geoff Gardner’s
and Molasses Crusted Spring Lamb. One caveat: it’s not
fortified, but years of water evaporation during aging have brought
the alcohol content up to about 21%, so sip your sherry if you want
to make it through a whole meal.
Nonetheless, red wine will always be the mainstay
of lamb pairings, even if a recipe like Mischel Nischan’s
Rack of Lamb with Kumquat Chutney tries to put a kink in your
plans. The problem here is acidity; while the chutney includes some
darker fruit flavors, it also has lots of acidic citrus elements.
Only a few reds can match both sides of that equation; Barbera is
probably the best of them. The Pio Cesare Barbera d’Alba
“Fides” 2001 shows how: black cherry aromas,
some earth and pepper, but with refreshing acidity and soft tannins.
It stands up to the meat but doesn’t argue with the chutney.
You can even get some of those spices in Durga
Prasad’s earlier recipe without the heat in Anette Grecchi-Gray’s
Braised Lamb Shank, a full-flavored recipe that can accommodate
a hearty red. The powerful flavor of braised meat like this goes
well with peppery wines; many Syrahs will do the job nicely. I like
the Niels Verburg Shiraz 2004 from South Africa;
good, plummy fruit, lots of meatiness, and a good dose of black
pepper on the finish. Even my Dad couldn't argue with that.
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