Wine with Easter lamb: Quick guide
Style of lamb
Lamb cutlets or young lamb served pink
Pinot Noir | Rosé Champagne | Bandol rosé
Roast lamb served medium to well done
Cabernet Sauvignon | Syrah or Shiraz | Rioja Reserva
Slow roasted shoulder of lamb or lamb shank
Grenache | Brunello di Montalcino | Gevrey-Chambertin (red Burgundy)
As at Christmas with turkey, Easter has long been associated with lamb but its religious connections most likely pre-date Christianity. For example, lamb has central significance during Passover, although some believe lamb’s place in this Jewish custom is purely sacrificial, rather than on the dinner table.
Controversy over ‘spring lamb’
It may seem natural enough to eat ‘spring lamb’ at Easter in Europe and the US, but young lambs raised on local farms will not necessarily have reached maturity by this point. Many butchers in the northern hemisphere traditionally sell young, local lamb in early summer, once flavour has had time to develop.
While global sourcing means that lamb is available for most of the year, some people, including British chef Jamie Oliver, have suggested trying alternative meats for Easter or cuts from older animals.
Wine and lamb: It depends how you cut it
Many red wines from the classic grape varieties are a wonderful, natural match with lamb. But it’s important to pay close attention to the cut of meat you’ve acquired, plus how you are going to cook it and serve it.
Below, we’ve looked at the three most popular ways to cook lamb. Click on the links to find wine reviews by our experts.
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.
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. Don’t believe friends who say rosé wines don’t go with food.
You could also opt for vintage rosé Champagne with a touch of age. Pink, tender lamb and a top rosé Champagne is something everyone must try once. How about Bollinger Grande Année Rosé 2007 or Veuve Clicquot, La Grande Dame Rosé 2008? Both have been recently reviewed by our experts.
Roast lamb – medium to well done
This is the most popular cooking style for lamb at 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 Bordeaux 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.
Good Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends can be found across the globe.
The regions to look out for are:
- Hawke’s Bay – New Zealand
- California – USA
- Coonawarra & Margaret River – Australia
- Stellenbosch – South Africa
- Argentina and Chile – South America
Shoulder of lamb and slow roasts 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. For the wine, we’re looking for that great balance of tannin, acidity and a little bottle age to draw out the flavours.
A southern Rhône with bottle age would fit the bill, the classic being Châteauneuf-du-Pape. You could also look to bolder styles of red Burgundy, such as Gevrey-Chambertin, plus Spain’s Ribera del Duero region or head to Tuscany for a young-ish Brunello di Montalcino.
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. This can be a truly sumptuous match.
If you need some help with the cooking, then here is our guide on how to ‘slow cook’ a leg of lamb.
Originally published in March 2016. Updated on 26 March 2018 by Ellie Douglas and again on 10 April 2019 by Chris Mercer.