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Jan 22, 2008
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Wine With Lamb Kebabs

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas    


We weren't too surprised to find that almost all of the thirteen red wines we opened to try with lamb kebabs ranged from pleasant to delicious with the dish.  Lamb, generally speaking, is an immensely wine-friendly meat, and when it's lightly flavored with herbs, garlic and olive oil, it's even more suited to red wine.  In general, bigger was better, though in the very best pairings the wines were well structured and showed some refinement. Our favorite wines for the match tended to be fairly substantial in body, with enough richness on the palate to balance the assertive kebab flavors.  The only disappointing wines were a California Pinot Noir that was perfectly fine on its own, but lacked enough power for the kebabs, and a Napa Merlot that had little grip or finesse. 




While this process certainly can be skipped, we started the dish early enough in the day so that we had plenty of time to brine the pieces of lamb. (By dissolving some of the protein fibers, brining allows moisture and flavor to be drawn in, resulting in juicier, more flavorful meat or poultry).


Many different kinds of vegetables are compatible with lamb kebabs, including zucchini and eggplant as well as bell peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes.  We like to cook the slower cooking vegetables such as peppers and onions before tossing them in the marinade, just to soften a little of the crunch.  (To do this, place the cut up vegetables in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil and remove from heat.  Drain immediately and set the vegetables aside). 


1 ½ pounds boneless lamb, preferably from the leg, cut in 1 inch pieces

1 red or yellow bell pepper cut in 1½ inch  squares

1 medium onion cut in 1 ½ inch squares

16 cherry tomatoes

16 button mushrooms

8 metal skewers


For the Brining Process:


6 cups water

¼ cup salt

¼ cup sugar

2 bay leaves

2 cloves peeled garlic, smashed

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes


Place all brining ingredients in a large pot and bring water to a boil.  Simmer just long enough for salt and sugar to dissolve, then remove from heat and let thoroughly chill.  Add the meat to the cold brining liquid (add more water if the pieces of meat are not completely submerged).  Let the lamb sit in the brining liquid for at least 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours in the refrigerator.  Remove meat from the brine and pat it dry.  Discard smashed garlic cloves and bay leaves.


For the Marinade:


¼ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon each minced parsley and fresh mint


Combine all ingredients.  Add lamb and vegetables and toss well with the marinade.  Thread the cubes of meat, alternating with the vegetables, on metal skewers.  Let rest for at least 45 minutes, or up to several hours (refrigerated).


Grill the skewers over moderately high heat until the meat is well charred on the outside and cooked to taste on the inside (about 7 minutes for medium rare). 





Approx. Price



Bighorn Cellars, Napa Valley (California) Syrah 'Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard' 2004





Rich and intense, but very nicely structured, this wine's sweet, spicy flavors provided a delicious foil to the kebabs, pairing well with everything on the skewer, not just the lamb.




Cono Sur, Maipo Valley (Chile) Cabernet Sauvignon 'Visión' 2005 (Imported by Vineyard Brands)






Yet another Chilean Cabernet whose quality far outpaces its price tag, this wine's dark berry fruit flavors and leathery undertones proved a perfect compliment to the dish, pairing best of all with the lamb.



Epiphany, Santa Barbara County (California) Petite Sirah 'Rodney's Vineyard' 2004






Though quite powerful (with a whopping 15.8% alcohol level), this wine tasted supple rather than strapping when paired with the kebabs.  It probably would seem overwhelming if sipped on its own, but when enjoyed with a dish that demands a full-bodied red, it worked wonderfully.




Lake Sonoma Winery, Dry Creek Valley (California) Zinfandel 'Old Vines Saini Farms' 2005





Surprisingly soft, this Zin worked especially well with the peppers and mushrooms on the kebabs.  It's definitely what used to called 'claret-styled.' 




Watershed, Margaret River (Australia) Shiraz 2004

(Imported by American Wine Distributors)






Margaret River Shiraz tends to be less exuberant than South Australian renditions, and this wine tastes quite elegant and refined, with full fruit but also echoes of pepper and spice.  It still has plenty of muscle, though, so more than held its own with this dish.