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Food & Wine Pairing - Lamb

Simple rules to get started pairing food and wine...

Wine and Lamb is a glorious combination...

Pairing Wine with Lamb

From the meat of a sheep that is less than one year old, lamb is leaner and milder than mutton, its older counterpart. Its versatility lends itself to a wide variety of preparations: cut from the rack, roasted and served with herbs and vegetables, simmered in a hearty stew, threaded onto kebab skewers, or ground and shaped into meatballs or burgers. Many flavors complement lamb, so you will often find it cooked using a variety of herbs, spices and seasonings.

Unlike some meats, when pairing wine with lamb there isn’t a universal rule to follow. Generally, robust red wines go well with lamb’s lightly gamey taste, but in some cases these may overpower the meat. The best wine and lamb pairings depend on the lamb’s cut and how you’re cooking it. Decide first how you’re serving your lamb, and pair your wine accordingly.

If you do choose to pair your lamb with white wine, stay away from tart wines like Riesling and Pinot Grigio unless you’re having a lamb curry such as Rogan Josh. Instead, opt for a more complex wine, like an Oaked ChardonnayViognier are known for pairing well with dishes that contain rosemary, so if your dish features that herb, consider trying one.

Young lamb and spring lamb are often served pink and have a lighter flavor. Because of this, they require a lighter wine. Full-bodied red wines tend to mask the more delicate taste of these lean meats, so skip the Merlots and Cabernets for this meal.

Pinot Noir and Rosé are both excellent pairings for young and spring lamb. Pinot Noirs from any region will pair well with this type of lamb, though those produced in Burgundy are an excellent option if you’re looking for something top-of-the-line.

Lamb dishes that are roasted, such as rack of lamb, leg of lamb, or lamb cutlets, pair well with a wide variety of red wines. Pinot Noir is an excellent choice, especially if your lamb will be served on the medium-rare side. You can also venture into bolder wines.

Many roast lamb dishes are prepared medium-well to well-done, making them pair well with Bordeaux Blends containing Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

If you’re preparing your roast lamb with Italian-inspired flavours such as garlic, rosemary, or oregano, consider pairing it with an Italian red such as Chianti Classico or Sangiovese.

Lamb chops are a rustic dish with an earthy flavour, frequently served alongside cooked carrots, potatoes, and other root vegetables. Often they’re accompanied by mushroom gravy or a balsamic reduction. The hearty flavours in this dish cause it to pair well with wines that also work with dishes such as lamb ragout and shepherd’s pie.

Pinot Noir, Bordeaux Blends, and the Italian Reds mentioned earlier all pair well with lamb chops, but you can also venture into medium- and full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot if that suits your tastes. These pairings are less common than red blends, however, with red wine blends from the Rhône valley in France being the wines most frequently paired with lamb chops.

Lamb that has been grilled or barbecued, either as kebabs or another form, has a smoky flavour that needs to be balanced out. Barbecued lamb may still be paired with Pinot Noir or a Blended Red, but Syrah can give it an extra punch. These cool-climate wines may be your best choice, especially those that start with a fruity flavour and end on peppery notes.

Another choice to go with barbecued lamb is a dry rosé such as Chateau Musar Jeune Rosé, as this wine will complement the charred flavour.

Pick one that emphasizes the fruit flavours not tannins. A young Shiraz would do just fine, or maybe a Pinotage / Shiraz Blend. Bold & impressive, a Viognier sets the scene when you add some Basmati rice or a flat bread!

A lamb casserole cooked the old fashioned way, with hearty beans and root vegetables with herb dumplings, is quite heavenly. Serve savoury, non tannic Cabernet Merlot Blend, Shiraz Mourvedre or soft fruity Chardonnay Blend. Lamb slowly cooked in red wine deserves a more fuller bodied Cabernet Merlot / Shiraz or a mellow Cabernet Shiraz.

Go from a humble lamb lover to a verified meat connoisseur.

A Guide to Different Cuts of Lamb

The most commonly used types of lamb are:

  • Shoulder: This part of the animal works hard, so the meat from a lamb’s shoulder is full of flavour.
  • Chop / Rack: Most expensive cuts of lamb, but are incredibly delicious and tender. They are taken from the ribs of the lamb
  • Loin Chop: These are mini T-bone steaks cut from the waist of the lamb. On one side of the chop is the lamb loin and on the other side is the fillet. 
  • Rump: The rump comes from the back of the lamb. This cut is lean, tender and full of flavour.
  • Leg: Like the shoulders, the legs of a lamb work hard, which means that this cut has a good, strong flavour. 
  • Shank: Lamb shank is taken from the lower part of the back legs
  • Neck: Lamb neck can be cooked slowly on a low heat, yet unlike the shoulder, it can also be treated like a steak.
  • Breast: This is the belly area of the Lamb. It is a quite fatty cut but when slow cooked this melts away to leave a tender and very tasty meat. 

A lamb’s shoulder works hard, so the meat from this part of the animal is full of flavour. It takes a bit of time to become tender, which, along with it’s sweeter flavour, makes it a great choice for stewing or slow-roasting.

The most expensive cuts of lamb are lamb chops or cutlets. These cuts of lamb are quite delicious and tender. This meat comes from the ribs of the lamb and can be cooked individually or together. When a number of them are cooked together as a whole, it is called a rack of lamb.

The tenderloin is a long thin muscle, found on the inside of the ribcage and is a part of the loin cut. It can be cooked whole, cut into small round medallions and pan-fried, or cut into 1cm slices and bashed into thin escalopes. 

Lamb rump is taken from the backside of the animal, where the top of the leg meets the loin. This cut of meat is lean, tender, and packed with flavour. It has a generous layer of fat to help keep the meat juicy.

A lamb’s legs work hard, just like the shoulders, which means this meat has a good strong flavour. Leg of lamb can be roasted whole on the bone, or boned and put on the BBQ. 

Lamb shank is a cheaper cut that is taken from the lower part of the back legs. There is a lot of collagen in the lamb shank, which gives the meat an amazingly soft, melting texture when cooked slowly. This cut is perfect for slow-cooking and stews.

Lamb neck is a less expensive, often underrated cut because it takes a little longer to cook than some of the other more popular cuts. Lamb neck can be cooked whole, slowly over a low heat to ensure a tender meat. Or, you can treat it like a steak and cook it quickly over high heat until the centre is pink.

Lamb breast is another less expensive cut that is often underused because it has a high amount of fat and requires a bit of finesse to cook to perfection. Just treat it like a pork belly and you’re good to go. The layer of fat provides a variety of flavour and helps tenderize the meat as it cooks. 

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