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Nov 11, 2008
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Wine With Slow Roasted Lamb

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas       

Earlier this Fall we were in Bordeaux, where (no big surprise) we ate and drank extremely well.  One of the most enjoyable meals we had was at the Relais de Franc-Mayne, an exceptionally attractive B&B located just minutes from downtown St. Emilion (www.relaisfrancmayne.com).  There is something particularly alluring about spending a comfortable night in a working winery--an experience that is made all the more pleasurable when the winery is a prestigious chateau such as Franc-Mayne. 

When we learned that it was possible to have dinner at Franc-Mayne (arrangements must be made in advance) we didn't hesitate to sign up.  The meal's pièce de resistance that night was Epaule d'Agneau Confit, a slow roasted shoulder of lamb.  Since Franc-Mayne's cook, Nicole Lefèvre, graciously wrote down her recipe for us, we decided to try it once back stateside.

Madame Lefèvre's instructions call for bone-in lamb shoulder, but since our butcher couldn't provide one on short notice we used a leg of lamb instead.  Because there is less fat in the leg than in the shoulder, our version of the dish lacked some of the meltingly rich, supple flavors and textures of the original, but it was nonetheless extremely tasty.  Slow roasting for several hours yields a very tender piece of meat.  Because it cooks at a low temperature plenty of savory juices collect in the pan.  The parsley and garlic mixture that is showered over the roast adds another gratifying layer of flavor.

Lamb is a notorious partner for Bordeaux style red wines, and this roast was no exception.  For that matter, we found any number of different types of red wine to be a congenial partner for it.  When cooked this way (as opposed to, say, a rare leg of lamb), the meat's concentrated richness of flavor and texture absorb fairly overt tannins well, and the sumptuousness of the roast can also rise to the challenge of big, mouth-filling, fruity wines.  Only the most densely extracted wines, and those that were lean to the point of anorexia, failed to measure up to this dish.  Here's the recipe:

Slow-Roasted Leg of Lamb

One 4-5 pound bone-in leg of lamb

4 cloves garlic, minced (mixed use)

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

¼ cup minced parsley

Pre-heat the oven to 250°.  Cut shallow slits in the lamb and force half the minced garlic in them.   Rub the surface of the meat with the olive oil, and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.  Combine the remaining garlic and parsley and set aside.  Place lamb in a roasting pan, cover lightly with foil, and put in oven for 3 hours.  Remove foil (do not discard it) and return pan to oven.  Cook for another 2 ½- 3 hours, or until a knife can easily be inserted in the meat (turn the roast occasionally while it cooks).  If the lamb skin is not thoroughly browned, turn the oven up to 400° for about 10-15 minutes.  Remove lamb from oven and sprinkle with the parsley-garlic mixture.  Tent the roast with the foil and let it rest for a few minutes before carving.

Serves 6



Approx. Price



Andeluna, Tupungato Mendoza (Argentina) Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (Imported by San Francisco Wine Exchange)




Internationally-styled, meaning almost oozing with ripe fruit flavor, this wine nonetheless is admirably balanced and structured, and so avoids the sin of tasting overly sweet.  Its jammy character provided a lift when paired with the earthy roast.   




Chateau La Dauphine, Fronsac Bordeaux (France) 2005






Merlot-dominated, this youthful Bordeaux surely will become more complex with a few years of cellaring, but it still tasted great with our lamb.  The combination of vivid primary fruit (characteristic of the acclaimed 2005 vintage) and earthy secondary notes seemed perfectly attuned to the complex set of flavors in the dish itself.





Koonowla, Clare Valley (Australia) Shiraz 2004

(Imported by Southern Starz)




Much as with the Andeluna Cabernet, full-flavored fruit was the appeal with this wine.  The different varietal, though, and the extra year of age made this wine seem softer and suppler.  It seemed to almost melt on the palate-much like the lamb itself. 




Luis Alegre, Rioja (Spain) Crianza 2004

(Imported by American Wine Distributors)





Neither new-styled, meaning fruit forward, nor old-fashioned and dominated by oak, this Rioja tasted charming.  It enlivened the roast by being lithe and lively.




Zaca Mesa, Sanat Ynez Valley (California) 'Z Cuvée' 2006





A Rhône-styled blend, with Grenache playing the leading role, this spicy, peppery wine added an intriguing piquant note to the dish.  It did not so much echo any flavors already there as add new ones, making the combination especially enjoyable.