Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi might have this week joined a vegetarian campaign against eating lamb, but that's not for everyone. If you're planning to cook the traditional lamb for this Easter Sunday, then here's a selection of wines reviewed by Decanter experts to drink with the meal.
Wine with Easter lamb
As at Christmas with turkey, Easter has long been associated with lamb. It is a traditional favourite in the US and the UK with origins in religious symbolism that most likely pre-dates Christianity. Lamb’s religious connections may have come from the early Jewish custom of Passover, when Jews painted their doors with sacrificed lamb’s blood to tell God to “pass over” their homes when bringing his/her wrath to the world. Early Christian converts adopted this lamb tradition.
Modern myths suggest that ‘spring lamb’ has always been eaten at Easter. But, this doesn’t work so well in Europe and the US. The majority of lamb is sold between four months to a year old. If a lamb is born in spring in the northern hemisphere, then May and June will be the time for spring lamb, not Easter. These young lambs are when the meat’s at its most tender and as the season progresses, lamb will develop in flavour. Now, we can get lamb all year round thanks for global imports, but there’s something special about buying locally for a family gathering.
Wine and lamb: It’s depends how you cut it
Red wines from the classic varieties are a wonderful, natural match with lamb. But to get the finest wine matching combination, you’ll have to pay close attention to the cut of meat you’ve acquired, how you are going to cook it and with what.
Below, we’ve looked at the three most popular ways to cook lamb.
Young lamb – served pink
Lighter, tender lamb meat demands a wine that will not swamp and overpower the delicate flavours and sublime texture. If you do reach for a full bodied red, you run the risk of ruining your meat.
Look to seek out cooler climate styles of Pinot Noir from Burgundy, Germany, Victoria in Australia, Leyda Valley in Chile, New Zealand, Oregon, California and South Africa. Both Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair, Bourgogne Rouge 2014, the Soter Vineyards, Oregon Pinot Noir 2014 and Pegasus Bay, Waipara Pinot Noir 2013 are some great value options.
If you don’t fancy a delicate red, this is your chance to reach for a weighty rosé such as Tavel or Bandol from the South of France.
For the extravagant, use this chance to trade up to vintage rosé Champagne with a touch of age. Pink, tender lamb and a great vintage rosé Champagne is something everyone must try once, such as the Veuve Clicquot, Rosé 2008 or Moet & Chandon, Rosé 2008.
Roast lamb – medium to well done
This is the most popular cooking style for lamb for Easter. The meat will be fuller in flavour but not quite as tender therefore it can handle a fuller red wine. Bordeaux blends are made for roast lamb. The young Cabernet Sauvignon dominant wines of the left bank are fruit forward with a splattering of spiciness and oak. These combine to add an extra dimension to the meat whilst the tannin will make the lamb meat feel more tender.
It doesn’t all have to be Bordeaux, good Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot blends can be found across the globe. The regions to look out for are Hawkes Bay – New Zealand, California, Coonawarra and Margaret River – Australia, Stellenbosch – South Africa, Argentina and Chile. William Kelley chose the Robert Mondavi, Caberent Sauvignon Resereve 1973 as one of his top 10 fine wines of 2016.
If you’re not keen on Cab, a good Rioja Reserva or Northern Rhône Syrah will also enhance your roast lamb.
For an exuberant choice to escort your lamb to the table, try Château Pichon Longuevilłe Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac 1982 rated by our Bordeaux expert Jane Anson as one of the top fine wines she tasted in 2016.
Shoulder or slow roast with fattier cuts of meat
If you’ve gone for a shoulder from an older lamb, you’ll be cooking with a lot more fat content on the meat, which holds and seals in the flavour fantastically. You’ll gain a pronounced, gamey flavour to your roast. Tannin, acidity and a little bottle age to draw out secondary flavours in wine are what we are looking for.
A southern Rhône with bottle age would fit the bill, along with muscular Gevrey-Chambertin, Ribera del Duero or a younger Brunello di Montalicino from Tuscany. Try the Bodegas Arzuaga Navarro, Ribera del Duero Gran Reserva 2004 from our most exciting wines of 2016.
Brunello needs at least two years in oak and a minimum of four months in bottle, giving the wine the age it needs to compliment the older lamb, the tannin to soften meat and the acidity to cut through the extra layers of fat on show. Sumptuous.
Originally published on Decanter.com in March 2016 and updated on 11 April 2017 by Ellie Douglas.
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