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Nov 12, 2013
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WINE WITH…Lamb Chops Marinated with Mint and Honey

With the holidays almost upon us, we’re prepared to up the ante somewhat when it comes to festive dinners. Instead of the comforting autumnal stews and bargain red wines we’ve been savoring for the past month or so, we’re inclined now to treat ourselves, and perhaps an esteemed friend or two, to more elevated cuisine. And it’s also the time to open a special bottle of wine with which to toast the season, the kinship gathered around the table, and our gratitude for the fine food and wine we are about to enjoy.

There is nothing particularly tricky about preparing these lamb chops. The only requirements are that you have enough time to marinate the meat for about 24 hours, and that you’ve got a sturdy skillet in which to cook it (cast-iron is ideal, as is a ridged grill pan).

To accompany the chops we coarsely mashed together cooked potatoes and cauliflower florets (simmered until tender but not mushy). Just before serving, we drizzled the mash with a mix of 1/3 cup olive oil, two tablespoons capers, two tablespoons minced parsley, one teaspoon of shredded lemon peel, the juice of half a lemon, and salt and pepper to taste.

Lamb Chops Marinated with Mint and Honey

Serves 4

8 loin lamb chops
1/3 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or cayenne to taste)
freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon shredded lemon peel
4-5 sprigs fresh mint
2-3 sprigs flat leaf parsley
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves

Trim excess fat off the chops, leaving on a thin layer for flavor and to keep the meat moist. Place the chops in a sturdy seal-able plastic bag (or other non-metal container). In a bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients and pour the contents into the bag and seal it. Refrigerate overnight.

To cook the chops, preheat the oven to 400°. On the stove top, heat a heavy, ovenproof skillet until very hot. Shake excess marinade from the chops and discard all the herbs. Sear the chops on all sides in the hot pan, about 5 minutes total. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook for about 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chops and the desired degree of doneness. (If you have an instant-read thermometer, check the temperature of the chops after about 10 minutes. For rare, take them out when they reach 125°, for medium, about 135°; they will continue to cook, and the temperature will rise about five degrees, while they sit.

* * *

This is an elegant dinner recipe, so calls for a special wine. We tried twelve different wines with it, all red, and while our favorites are listed below, we found nary a one that we would discard out of hand. A succulent Pinot Noir was perhaps a bit light to make for a perfect match, and an old-fashioned Rioja Reserva showed a bit too much oak, but in general everything we tasted worked fine. The wines we are recommending went a step beyond. They made for seamless pairings, being powerful enough to complement the chops but not so muscular as to detract from the overall match.

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Alta Colina, Paso Robles (California) Petite Sirah “Estate Ann’s Block” 2010

$48

We usually think of Petite Sirah as a rustic, brawny wine, but this rendition tastes remarkably sophisticated. Quite dark in color, it shows plenty of bright fruit, augmented by echoes of coffee and chocolate, and has smooth, not rough, tannins to provide structure.

Bella, Rockpile (California) Zinfandel “Rocky Ridge Vineyard” 2010

$45

A source of restrained, claret-styled Zins, Bella makes wines that consistently perform well with food. They are not alcoholic monsters, and the variety’s inherent exuberance is kept in check. In this case, the wine’s colorful character added a bit of nerve to the pairing.

Kay Brothers, McLaren Vale (Australia) Cabernet Sauvignon “Cuthbert” 2010

(Imported by Quintessential)

$60

Beautifully structured, with firm, even forceful tannins that seemed to melt away when the wine was sipped with the lamb chops, this clearly was the best Cabernet we tried. It outperformed two comparably priced Californians, both of which tasted a tad sweet and lacked grip, as well as a Chilean, which seemed a bit too weedy. Kay Brothers is not a winery we knew beforehand, but we’re going to keep a lookout in the future.

Maison Nicolas Perrin, Saint-Joseph, Vallée du Rhône Nord (France) 2011

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$34

The earthiest wine we tried, with characteristic hints of bacon and barnyard (especially in the bouquet), this Saint-Joseph made the meaty dish seem even meatier. At the same time, being supple on the palate and not at all heavy, it integrated very smoothly with the lamb.

Rodney Strong, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County (California) “Symmetry” Meritage 2009

$55

Well-balanced, with well-defined but unoppressive tannins and ripe but not sweet fruit flavors, this “Symmetry” lives up to its name. A real charmer, it keeps all its different elements in harmony, and so enhanced the pleasure provided by the lamb chops, making for a truly special supper.