Spring is that time of year when the British Isles are bursting with buds, the grass is lush and birdsong is in overdrive, as if our chirruping chums are engaged in an attempt to force Simon Cowell to give them all a record deal.
And there’s lamb. Lovely lamb. We’re big fans of lamb in this country, and though there are those who mock our mighty mint sauce, I think it’s no coincidence that lamb and mint both spring up around the same time.
Lamb is one of my favourite meats to match wine with, because it offers a uniquely fragrant flavour, moderate intensity and seriously juicy texture. Let’s seek out the best.
For your hearty roast lamb, be it shoulder or leg, the very traditional options are an aged Bordeaux from France or mature Rioja from Spain.
Red Bordeaux from the Médoc is usually blended from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and as it ages develops savoury flavours and soft textures.
Or you could try St-Émilion, with wines based mainly on Merlot. With its earthy, savoury, dark flavours, it’s the business matched with a meaty snack.
If you fancy something a bit different, go for a Cabernet Franc from the Loire, served after 20 or 30 minutes in the fridge. It’s a grape I adore, with an aromatic touch and a jot more lightness than Cabernet Sauvignon. Look for Chinon, Bourgueil or Saumur-Champigny on the label – or alternatively, pick one from Argentina, which has some cracking bold examples. Those from Pulenta Estate are especially worth sampling, if you can track one down – try bbr.com.
If you’re a fan of more fruity styles of red wine, look to Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, or both of these blended together. Errázuriz generally makes good-value Chilean reds that are widely available on the high street.
Or you could hunt for a red from Rioja in sunny Spain. The region produces all kinds of wines: crisp whites, oaky whites, young fruity rosés, gluggable fruity reds and deep savoury aged wines.
With lamb, the Big Daddy is a red Gran Reserva Rioja, which comes to you already aged in barrel for at least two years and in bottle for at least three years. This brings a savoury richness that also comes from wines only made in the best years. For more information about Rioja, visit winesfromrioja.co.uk.
Just down the road from Rioja is the Spanish region of Ribera del Duero, which is producing some very fine wines made from Tempranillo, the headline grape of red Rioja. Famous names include Vega Sicilia, Pesquera and Pingus.
When serving lamb with a rich spicing of smoky barbeque flavours, I’ve had success matching it with Shiraz. You could try South African examples – consider those from Mullineux Family Wines in the Swartland, or wines from Mark Kent at Boekenhoutskloof.
If you’re stewing your lamb or serving it in a creamy sauce, you could even try rich white wines such as oaked Chardonnay or a rich Chenin Blanc, or go for lighter reds such as Pinot Noir and Beaujolais.
It’s worth remembering that, in general, minced meat needs a wine with less structure in order to avoid swamping the softer texture of the dish. But with Spring lamb, my favourite approach is to serve it pink, sit back and listen to the birds.
Extract from Behind Enemy Wines by Olly Smith. Click here to buy.