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Feb 21, 2006
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Wine With . . . Lamb Chops

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

 

From Beaujolais to Barolo, Sangiovese to Shiraz, red wine has a natural affinity for lamb. At least that's what vintners and publicists like to say. In our experience, virtually everyone who makes or sells red wine, regardless of the particular type or style, touts their wine as a good partner for grilled or roast lamb. But are all reds really created equal alongside this rich, full-flavored meat? And does lamb really match all that well with a wide variety of wines? 

 

We decided to put this supposedly classic match to the test. To keep things simple, we eschewed sauces or other fancy preparations, and simply roasted a rack of lamb at high heat (425 degrees) until medium rare. We then cut the rack into chops, and served them alongside garlic-infused mashed potatoes. We should note, though, that this meat was of exceptional quality. We had purchased it awhile back from Summerfield Farm in Culpeper Virginia and, to be honest, had forgotten it was in our freezer. Even after spending nearly a year there, it was deliciousas good as any lamb we've ever had at home. If you're interested in top-notch, grass and milk fed meat from a superior purveyor, give Summerfield Farm a call. They're at 800-898-3276 or www.summerfieldfarm.com, and they ship nationwide.

 

We tried thirteen red wines with these succulent lamb chops. We also included one white, just because we know some people don't drink red. It was a Napa Valley Chardonnay, and the meat completely overwhelmed it. (So much for that experiment.) But the lamb did much the same thing to a number of the red wines too. The lighter ones we trieda cru Beaujolais, a Dolcetto, and a Mercurey from Burgundyall tasted thin and hollow alongside the meat. Other reds did just the opposite. The dish made a rich, spicy Australian Shiraz taste primarily of oak, and an Argentinean Malbec seemed clunky and cumbersome. Neither of these wines enhanced the dish. In fact, we found, to our surprise, that the somewhat aggressive taste of lamb tended to highlight flaws in the wines. A Merlot that seemed to be just a tad overripe when tasted on its own became truly unbalanced when sipped with the lamb, just as a southern Rhône red that seemed a tad hard turned very harsh and bitter. Our first conclusion, then, was that lots of red wines don't pair well with lamb after all.

 

At the same time, we recognized that the wines that did succeed came from different places, were made with different grapes, and evidenced different styles. What united them was balance and harmony, as they had no stylistic flaws or defects for the lamb to highlight. Thus our second conclusion was that many red wines do pair well with lamb, so long as the wines themselves are truly well-made. Some foods can make an average wine taste better than it would otherwise. Just the opposite proved true with our lamb chops.

 

Selection

Approx. Price

 

 

Domaine d'Aussières, Corbières (France) A 2003

(Imported by Pasternak) 

 

 

  $20

 

The most elegant match of the evening, this Bordeaux-styled Corbières delivered a rush of bright, red fruit flavors (especially pomegranate) that reined in the overt lamb-iness of the chops.

 

  

 

Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (California) Meritage 2002 

 

 

 

 

 $28

 

Hints of coffee/ toffee laced into fresh fruit made this wine appealing on its own, but when paired with the lamb it exploded into gustatory fireworks on the palate.

 

 

Montevina, Amador County (California) Zinfandel Terra d'Oro 2003

 

 

 

 

 $18

 

Do you like mint jelly or chutney with lamb? If so, you'll rejoice in this Terra d'Oro. It's a generous wine, bursting with the sweet, dried fruit flavors characteristic of a big Zin, but it also has a sweet, spicy edgealtogether a savory intermingling of components that complimented the meatiness of the chops.

 

 

Tormaresca, Salento (Italy) Negroamaro Masseria Maìme 2002

(Imported by Remy Amerique)

 

 

 

 

  $30

 

This luscious offering comes from the heel of the Italian boot. Its brawny personality, soft texture, and tannic grip on the finish combined to reinforce the fundamental, almost gamey, nature of the lamb,

 

 

Ventisquero, Maipo Valley (Chile) Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva 2003 (Imported by Austral Wine)

 

 

 

 

 

  $16

 

With its ripe, sweet fruit flavors judiciously enhanced by nuances of cedar and leather, coupled with a firm structure on the finish, this wine reinforced our conviction that Chile's Maipo Valley is one of the greatest places in the world to grow Cabernet Sauvignon.