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Apr 3, 2007
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Wine With. . . Leg of Lamb

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas


Now that spring has finally sprung, bringing Easter with it, our thoughts turn to lamb, the traditional gastronomic showpiece at many Easter dinners. 


In Greece, where Easter rituals are taken very seriously, a whole lamb (or kid) might be seasoned with lemon and mint and roasted on a spit.  On certain Greek islands the lamb is stuffed with rice and baked in an earthenware vessel.   The French sometimes coat a rack of lamb with garlicky herbed bread crumbs, or they may opt for Navarin Printanière - spring lamb stew.  In Provence, we've seen leg of lamb basted with lavender-spiked honey while it roasts.  At an Italian Festa di Pasqua, roast lamb might be stuffed with spinach, or some variation on the pesto theme. 


We've been experimenting with various lamb recipes ourselves, and one that we've found particularly appealing calls for marinating a butterflied, boneless leg of lamb in olive oil, lemon juice, thyme and rosemary, and grilling it for about an hour.  The resulting flavors are clean, refreshing and uncomplicated-but not quite as adaptable to wine as we'd anticipated. 


None of the twelve red wines we paired it with were bad with the lamb, but a few were less than stunning.  The delicate flavors of a Pinot Noir, for example, became muddled and overwhelmed by the slight char on the meat.  In general, the delicious essence of lemon that infused the lamb proved a challenge for the wine, which had to be fairly gutsy to stand up to it.  All the wines we liked with the dish were overtly fruity, but the best matches had other taste components as well, such as spice and/or earthiness.  We also found that wines distinguished by a reasonably robust texture fared best, for they balanced the dense texture of the meat (leaner wine became disconcertingly ephemeral).  The wine at the top of each of our lists was a husky Shiraz/Grenache blend, whose notes of spice and sweet fruit were like chutney, interweaving flavors with the lemon's citrusy tang, the sharp piquancy of herbs, and the rich, meaty complexity of the roast lamb.   




Approx. Price



Famiglia Bianchi, San Rafael (Mendoza, Argentina) Malbec 2005

(Imported by Quintessential LLC)





Though fruit-forward, this wine's floral-scented bouquet and anise-tinged finish added nuance and sophistication to the match.  It outperformed wines in which fruit was the only really recognizable flavor component.





Chateau Lagrosse, Premières Côtes de Bordeaux (Bordeaux, France) 'Les Comtes' 2003

(Imported by Adler Fels)




Tell-tale secondary Bordeaux aromas and flavors, reminiscent of cigar boxes, lead pencils, and all sort of other odd descriptors, are what made this such an appealing match.  Because the wine hails from a torridly hot vintage, there was plenty of rich, ripe fruit as well.





Novelty Hill, Columbia Valley (Washington) Merlot 2004




This wine shows vivid dark cherry flavors, supported by plenty of spicy oak.  The wood may seem a bit excessive when the wine is sipped on its won, but when paired with the lamb. it added rather than detracted from the overall experience.





Slipstream, McLaren Vale (Australia) Shiraz/ Grenache 2005

(Imported by Epicurean Wines)





A delicious, full-bodied, but at the same time supple rather than strapping wine, this blend of 72% Shiraz and 28% Grenache hit all the right notes when paired with the lemon-marinated lamb.  The soft, spicy Grenache helped it complement the citrus, while the earthier, deeper Shiraz enabled it to more than hold its own with the deeply-flavored meat.  A winning combination all round.





Tenimenti Angelini, Rosso di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) Val di Suga 2004 (Imported by Wilson Daniels)





This Rosso di Montalcino displayed many Brunello-like characteristics, particularly dry, dusty, tobacco-tinged undertones and an intriguingly complex bouquet.  When paired with the dish, there was just enough forward fruit to allow it to strut all that more subtle stuff.