HomeAbout UsWine ReviewsArchivesAdvertiseContact Us


Wine Columns

Wine Reviews

WineReviewOnline on Twitter

Critics Challenge

Distillers Challenge

San Diego Challenge

Sommelier Challenge


Winemaker Challenge

WineReviewOnline on Facebook

WineReviewOnline on Instagram

Apr 3, 2018
Printable Version
Email this Article

WINE WITH…Marie-Antoinette’s Shepherd’s Pie

One of us was hankering for shepherd’s pie, but the other considers this venerable dish unappetizingly “rustic.” And so, in the interests of marital harmony, we turned to that immortal shepherdess Marie-Antoinette for inspiration. If you are a Francophile, or maybe even if you aren’t, you’ve probably heard that the French queen had a pastoral refuge built where she could escape with her regal entourage when palace life got too overwhelming. Flocks of sheep were imported from Switzerland to populate this picturesque farm, and it is said that the Queen sometimes dressed up in an idyllic version of a shepherdess’ outfit to milk the sheep herself (to commemorate this, at the Chateau Versailles gift shop you can buy a small, cuddly stuffed sheep with a pink bow around its neck for 15 Euros). If the queen’s chefs ever prepared such a dish as shepherd’s pie, they would surely have crowned it with something more regal than mashed potatoes--a riff on scalloped potatoes, or Pommes Anna, perhaps?

Marie-Antoinette’s Shepherd’s Pie

Serves 4

We used lamb shoulder and asked the butcher to trim and cut the meat into small pieces. You could substitute bacon for the pancetta—just blanch it in simmering water for a couple of minutes, then strain it and pat dry.

The meat portion of the recipe may be made up to a day ahead of time.

1 pound lamb cut into 1” cubes
salt and pepper
1/3 cup flour
1 tablespoon olive oil or other vegetable oil
1/4 cup diced pancetta
1 cup minced onions
2 carrots, sliced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/3 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon rosemary
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 russet potatoes
1/3 cup butter

Salt and pepper the lamb, then toss the pieces with the flour. Shake off all the excess flour, reserving one tablespoon of it. In a large sauté pan heat the oil and then add the lamb. When it begins to brown, stir in the pancetta and onions. When the onions have softened, add the carrots, mushrooms and garlic. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the lamb is nicely browned.

Add one tablespoon of the chicken broth, reserving the 1/3 cup. Stir in the rosemary, thyme, parsley, red pepper flakes and fish sauce. Whisk the reserved tablespoon of flour into the 1/3 cup of reserved chicken stock, and when it is thoroughly blended together stir it to the simmering lamb. Cover the pan and cook for 30 minutes.

About 60 minutes before serving, pre-heat the oven to 400°. Melt the butter and keep it warm while you peel the potatoes and slice them very thinly, using a mandolin or the slicing section of a box grater (or use a very sharp knife and a steady hand). Pour the stewed meat and vegetables in a deep pie dish or cast iron skillet, or an ovenproof shallow casserole. Cover the top of the lamb stew with a layer of sliced potatoes arranged in a circular pattern. Brush the potatoes generously with melted butter and season with salt and pepper. Arrange another layer or potatoes on top of the first, brushing them with butter and seasoning with salt and pepper. Continue the process until all the potatoes are gone. Put the dish in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the potatoes have browned and are starting to crisp around the edges (check periodically to make sure the potatoes aren’t burning.

* * *

We sampled ten red wines with this dish. All performed satisfactorily, with the following five rising to the top. They are all fairly soft, with unobtrusive tannins. That seems to be the key to a first-rate match with this dish. Go for a wine that won’t overwhelm or dominate the experience.

Connect  on Twitter:   @M_L_Thomas  and  @Wine_With_
More recipes and wine pairings:    Wine With...  


Approx. Price



Maule Valley


Barbera/ Garnacha/ Carignan


(Imported by Palm Bay)


This red blend is mostly Grenache (60%), and like so many wines with that variety as a primary component (think about Châteauneuf du Pape), it’s almost meaty tasting. There is plenty of red and black fruit too, and the combination made for a very pleasant match.

Grgich Hills



Napa Valley




A very Claret-style Zinfandel, without the brambly heaviness that mars so many examples of the variety. Deliciously supple, it goes down easily, and its blue and blackberry fruit flavors complemented the meat and vegetables in the Queen’s shepherd’s pie very well.

Domaine Oratoire St. Martin

Côtes du Rhône Villages





(Imported by North Berkeley)


Drinking beautifully, with soft, supple tannins and rich flavors of fruit and dried herbs, this wine meshed beautifully with the Shepherd’s Pie. It brought out the earthiness in the dish, and seemed to have a special affinity for the mushrooms as well as the lamb. (Carianne is now an appellation of its own, but it had not yet received that distinction when the grapes for this wine were harvested.)

Sierra Cantabria





(Imported by the Country Vintner)


Another soft, sensuous red, this Rioja offers greater complexity and nuance than most Crianzas. Its plethora of flavors (fruit, earth, spice, leather, and more) echoed the different sorts of flavors in the dish.







(Imported by Kysela Père et Fils)


The most powerful wine we are recommending, this Shiraz reflects the heat and sunshine of its Barossa origin without seeming overly heavy. It too shows soft tannins, which is what made it work so nicely with the dish.