It’s true that lamb is one of the most wine-friendly of meats, as at home with red Bordeaux and Rioja as it is with the more fruit driven varietals from the new world. But if you’re looking for a spot-on match it’s worth thinking just how - and for how long - you’re going to cook it.
And, though you might not have thought about it before, how old it is.
'Baby/milk fed’ lamb
A delicacy more popular in Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Italy and south-west France than in the UK and one that deserves to be paired with fine wines - top quality Bordeaux, burgundy and Rioja, all with a few years' bottle age. (Mature wines go well with this style of lamb)
Spring lamb served pink with fresh herbs and/or spring vegetables
Cuts like rack of lamb, noisettes and leg of lamb - exactly the sort of dishes you might be thinking about for an Easter feast (unless you’re living in the southern hemisphere, of course). Again, the wines mentioned above will work well but I’ve got a bias in favour of Pinot Noir or cru Beaujolais with this type of dish. Dry rosé, especially vintage rosé Champagne, is also good.
Roast lamb served medium-rare to well-done, with garlic or rosemary and/or a winey sauce or gravy
The way many households would prepare a leg of lamb for a multi-generational family get-together. This is more robust treatment than the above which would work better with a younger, more fruit-driven wine such as a younger red Bordeaux, Cabernet or Cabernet/Merlot blend, a Rioja reserva, a Chianti Classico or a northern Rhône red. (The same goes for lamb shanks cooked in red wine.)
Slow-roast shoulder of lamb
A fattier, more flavourful dish, especially if made with older lamb such as hoggett or mutton. A slightly gamey Rhône or Spanish red such as a Ribera del Duero is a good choice with this.
Typically British/Irish lamb stews and hotpots, shepherd’s pie
The characteristic of these types of dishes is their very simple flavours - sweet-tasting lamb, stock and a few root vegetables with maybe a sprig of thyme or bay. Big tannic reds will overwhelm them - stick to inexpensive country reds such as a Côtes du Rhône Villages. (Or, frankly, a British pale ale.)
More exotic lamb stews such as tagines or lamb with aubergines
Robust, rustic but not overly tannic reds such as Côtes du Roussillon, Languedoc reds and young (crianza) Riojas.
Lamb curries such as rogan josh
A fruity, slightly porty red such as a Douro red or Zinfandel should work provided the accompanying dishes aren’t too hot. India Pale Ales (IPAs) are also good.
Depends on the rub or marinade. If it’s spicy you’ll need a wine with some sweet fruit like a Chilean Cabernet, Pinotage or an Australian Shiraz. If it’s marinated, Greek-style, with lemon and herbs look for a wine with a bit less fruit and a bit more acidity. (Italian reds such as Chianti and Barbera fit this description. Crisp Greek whites like Assyrtiko and strong dry rosés are also enjoyable)
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