The spring season for lamb has begun and this weekend roast lamb will take pride of place in many Easter celebrations, as is tradition from Eastern Europe down to Italy and Greece and more recently Ireland. Although it’s getting late, Easter heralds the start of the lambing season rather than its peak, as we can see from the many young lambs still lying in our fields. Of all meats, lamb’s flavor evolves during this season, going from mild and sweet to richer as the animal ages.
Its seasonality complicates the idea of lamb’s “classic wine pairing,” as does the cut of meat, how it’s prepared, and what side dishes you serve. Bordeaux blends, for example, are a classic pairing with medium-roasted lamb, particularly a herbaceous Cabernet-led Left Bank Médoc blend. However, as today’s wine of the week reminds us, softer varietals like pinot noir can sing with the sweeter notes of spring lamb, like succulent little chops served pink. Cool-climate pinots, cabernet francs, or lighter Italian reds like Valpolicella and Chianti bring a natural freshness that’s great for cutting into fattier ground-lamb-based dishes. Tender suckling lamb is a delicacy in Spanish regions like Rioja and Ribera del Duero, where open-fire roasted young suckling pigs are served with local, oak-aged Tempranillo red wine.
Here in Ireland, our bounty of grassy fields gives our lamb a distinctly nuanced flavor, particularly those from herb-rich fringes. That grass-fed character will become even more pronounced in the coming months, with chefs often arguing that mid-summer is the best time to eat lamb. The truth is that Irish lamb can be eaten year-round if you’re willing to savor the more intense flavors of full-grown mutton or year-old hogget that would currently be yearlings born last spring. These richer meats make a great base for slow-cooked stews and stews, or for flavorful tagines and curries. The former pair well with smoother Grenache-based wines like this week’s Côtes du Rhône pick, as does the latter — or you could soften those spices further with something sweeter like California Zinfandel, Apulian Primitivo, or Valpolicella Ripasso.
Today some eclectic styles are brought together for a selection of lamb dishes. Honestly, the main rule when pairing food and wine is not to overthink it. Try to balance the intensity of wine and food flavors, have fun with complementary notes, and remember that acidity breaks down fat and tannins emphasize spicy heat while sweetness softens it. At the end, drink whatever you feel like and look for extra tasty results so you can enjoy them again.
wine of the week
Rabl Pinot Noir 2016, Langenlois, Austria, 13.5 pieces, €26.95 (from €29.95)
An energetic and elegantly nuanced Kamptal Burgundy that deserves to be decanted to really bring out its red fruity notes of raspberry, cherry and pomegranate. Hints of green herbs and layers of smoky, earthy flavors combine with fresh acidity that brings out tannins and some maturity on the finish – making it a versatile pairing for everything from pink chops with mint yoghurt to lamb with anchovies, slowly cooked dishes or even venison McGeough’s Connemara lamb cured meat.
O’Brien’s Wine Shops; obrienswine.ie
Corte alle Mura Chianti DOCG Riserva 2016, Tuscany, Italy, 13 pieces, €9.99
Tea-poached plums and crunchy red fruit meet crisp acidity and fluffy tannins in this excellent weeknight complement to ground lamb, whether you prefer burgers, meatballs or herb skewers with yoghurt and mint, while this freshness goes well with an Italian lamb ragù or chops with chimichurri. Lidl
Château Billeron Bouquey Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2018, Bordeaux, France, 14 pieces, €14.99
Don’t overlook Right Bank Bordeaux just because Left Bank Blends are such an acclaimed lamb pairing. This Merlot-led blend of a super vintage offers forest fruits, subtle clove and cigar box notes, and a freshness that goes well with Greek-style roast lamb with lemon juice and garlic. Aldi
Finca Las Cabras Rioja Reserva 2013, Spain, 14 pieces, €19.50
Twenty months in American and French oak and plenty of bottle aging give this Tempranillo blend’s dried plum fruit soft balsamic, liquorice and leathery notes, resulting in a versatile style that pairs well with roast lamb, slow-cooked cuts, medium dishes such as Eastern spices or shepherd’s pie .
The Wine Pair, The Old Bakery Store, LaHoya Greens, dinglewinecellar.ie, boutiquewines.ie
Château Beauchêne Côtes du Rhône Grande Réserve 2020, France, 14.5 pieces, €15 (from €18)
With enough tannin to reduce the lamb’s richness but plenty of fruit to top things off, try it with richer, slow-cooked dishes like braised shoulder, braised hogget, mild lamb curry, or grilled lamb shank with flaked butter and tandoori spices.
Whelhans wines; whelehanswines.ie
https://www.independent.ie/life/food-drink/wine/five-reds-to-pair-with-irish-spring-lamb-this-easter-41550502.html Five red wines to pair with Irish spring lamb at Easter