The sun is emerging from its winter hibernation; the snowdrops and daffodils are adding splashes of colour to gardens; the gloves and hats are being put back into drawers and lambs are gambolling in the fields. It can mean only one thing – spring is on its way.
Along with spring comes lots of lovely seasonal foods. Sea foods such as crab and sardines are delicious and there are plenty of spring fresh salad vegetables such as rocket, watercress and spring onions but the most eagerly anticipated seasonal food in spring is probably lamb.
Succulent spring lamb is a popular choice for Easter lunch and features prominently on restaurant menus at this time of year. Like other red meats, the flavours of lamb can be enhanced or destroyed depending on the choice of wine to accompany it. The right style of wine will turn a tasty lunch or dinner into a delicious feast.
Eating lamb dictates red wine as its accompanying tipple. Its flavours go well with many red wine styles but aim for more mature and fine reds as the bright fruit and higher tannins of many younger red wines can overpower the flavours of the lamb. Also, if you want to get the best out of your lamb and red wine combination avoid mint sauce or mint jelly as have a disastrous effect on even the best red wines.
The best red wine styles to aim for if you’re planning to drink them with roast lamb should be not too fruity, not too tannic and not too acidic. That still leaves plenty of choice including a range of Cabernet Sauvignons and Rioja. Reds made from Cabernet or Tempranillo grapes are the star choice to accompany roast lamb even with herb flavourings.
The top red wine choice is probably a mature Bordeaux i.e. a claret. If you can afford it a bottle of claret makes a classic match with roast lamb and will leave you with lasting memories of a wonderful meal. If a mature claret is a step too far younger clarets such as St-Emilion or Pomerol are almost as good and work better than the more austere characteristics of clarets from Graves or Medoc.
A mature Californian Cabernet Sauvignon is almost as successful a match with plain roast lamb as a mature claret. French Cahors is another red wine style which works extremely well with plain roast lamb, whether the wine is mature or relatively young and inexpensive.
Rioja, a red wine style which seems to complement so many foods, is once again a safe bet with roast lamb. For a delicious partnership try red Rioja Gran Reserva. Rioja Crianza is almost as good and Reserva or young Riojas, whilst not perfect, make acceptable partners. Other Spanish reds such as mature Navarra and Ribera del Duero are also worth a try and make enjoyable accompaniments. Other options which are again not perfect but are acceptable are a Zinfandel or a gentle Greek Nemea.
Roasting the lamb with herbs doesn’t change the range of red wine options but does change the star matches. A traditional herb flavouring of garlic and rosemary pushes a Rioja Gran Reserva to the top of the list, overtaking a mature claret which, whilst no longer the star choice still makes an excellent partner for the lamb. Zinfandel becomes a better match with the garlic and rosemary flavouring and Rioja Reserva and Crianza are also very good. Australian Cabernet Sauvignons work reasonably well with the stronger herb flavouring but the rosemary doesn’t work with the blackcurrant characteristics of Californian Cabernet and clashes horribly with Cahors.
Using thyme to add flavour to roasted lamb has a bigger impact on the best red wine matches and introduces some new reds to the equation. Australian Cabernet Sauvignon comes to the fore as the flavours of the thyme work well with the minty characteristics of the wine. Try a Cabernet from the Coonawarra region in South Australia for a star match.
Thyme seems to tame tannins in red wine allowing a wide range of reds to come under consideration as partners for the roast lamb. Greek reds such as Goumenissa and Nemea make excellent matches and Rioja Reserva and Crianza are also very good. Thyme works well with the slightly grassy flavour of red Bordeaux from the simplest to the finest styles.
Cahors and Zinfandel are enhanced as matches with roast lamb by the thyme flavourings and other reds which had not been considered previously now make enjoyable partners for roast lamb thanks to the thyme. These include Chianti, Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino from Italy; Portuguese Bairrada; Beaujolais-Villages; Californian Cabernet; Pinot Noir from California, Oregon and Australia and Australian Shiraz. Just remember to avoid the mint sauce!
Image by Laurel Fan.