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Mediterranean reds pair well with the lamb of March

| Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

As winter slouches all too slowly toward spring, fret not. Take the opportunity to enjoy a delicious lamb stew with robust red wines.

Every Mediterranean culture has a tasty lamb stew tradition with red wine. In every rendition, the slowly cooked lamb must melt in the mouth with savory goodness. The red wine's bold flavors and freshness should balance the stew's richness.

Italian lamb stews typically feature tomatoes with rosemary, garlic, onions and green olives. Other Italian variations add carrots, artichokes and bell peppers.

Southern Italian red wines make a perfect complement. The 2010 Villa Mottur, Primitivo di Manduria, Italy (Luxury 33019; Chairman's Selection On Sale: $11.99) fits the bill nicely.

The primitivo grapes grow in the Salento Peninsula, the “heel” of Italy's famous geographic “boot.” Phoenician traders first brought primitivo from Dalmatia. Later, Greek settlers tamed the vines while establishing grape-growing in Salento during ancient times.

For much of the grape's history, northern Italian wineries used southern primitivo wines for blending. The wines from the sunny south added alcoholic heft to the often thin northern Italian reds. Since the early 1920s, however, the Mottura family has steadily built a reputation for producing Salento wines of excellent quality in their own right.

The family avoids over-ripening the fruit to eliminate unpleasant prune traits. Hand-harvesting plucks the grapes at just the right moment when refreshing acidity balances ample fruitiness.

Temperature-controlled fermentation also preserves proper balance. Aging in older French-oak barrels adds elegance and refined tannins for additional balance.

This wine's ruddy color offers black-fruit aromas with hints of plum and smokiness. Ripe black- and red-fruit flavors emerge with a touch of spice. Fine acidity and smooth tannins balance a fruity, but dry, finish. Recommended.

In southern France, traditional daube stews braise lamb in wine with vegetables, plenty of garlic and herbes de Provence. Other tasty touches can include orange peel, olives, prunes and cloves. Traditionally, the dish slowly simmers in a daubière, a round clay pot that enhances the meat's moist tenderness.

Lamb daube pairs beautifully with classic grenache, syrah and mourvèdre red blends prevalent throughout the southern Rhône and neighboring Languedoc region. The best examples of the wines have lovely wild garrigue aromas to match daube's strong rosemary, thyme, bay leaf and garlic traits.

Try, for example, the delicious 2011 Le Loup Dans La Bergerie Vin du Pays Val de Montferrand, France (Luxury 39656; $11.99). The name actually refers to the “wolf in the lamb's shelter.” The blend of grenache and syrah comes from winegrower Jean Orliac, a fearless pioneer in reclaiming the exquisite vineyards of Pic Saint Loup.

In 1970, Orliac and his young bride, Marie-Thérèse, reclaimed a then-desolate winery and vineyard in Combe de Fambétou, a hamlet between the Pic Saint Loup and Hortus mountains. The rocky soils and ideal Mediterranean climate had the potential to produce outstanding fruit, but it required patience and relentless hard work to bring the vines to maturity.

This tasty wine bears witness to Orliac's dedication and talents in assembling wines from his vineyards and those of his neighbors. The wine's pretty ruby color offers ripe blackberry and earthy notes with hints of black pepper. The ripe red-fruit and plum flavors layer with bright, refreshing acidity and moderate tannins. It makes for a quaffable red perfect with daube. Highly recommended.

Traditional Spanish lamb stews feature sweet red bell peppers, garlic, nutmeg, cloves and red wine. Red wines from Rioja in northern Spain make a particularly good match.

Try the 2007 Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva, Spain (9327; $13.99). The winery captures the traditional essence of Rioja's marvelous terroir even while producing millions of bottles annually in a modern hillside winery.

The blend of tempranillo, garnacha and mazuelo grapes, Rioja's traditional trio, benefits from sunny days and cool nights. The grapes work together to a marvelous balance of ripeness and freshness.

After fermentation in stainless steel, the wine ages for 18 months in a combination of American- and French-oak barrels of varying ages. The barrels impart classic spiciness, one of Rioja's trademarks. The combination of ripe plum and berry fruit, freshness and spice complements the lamb stew brilliantly. Highly recommended.

Dave DeSimone is a wine writer for Trib Total media. he can be reached at

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