Fabulous spring lamb dishes pair well with chilled fruity reds
Young, energetic lambs gamboling on pasture hillsides offer one of spring's most uplifting and joyful symbols. Like the new season itself, lambs represent rebirth and renewal.
“The lambs will form a group of 10 or 20 running around in circles, then jump off the top of a mound, or jump straight up in the air, just for the fun of it,” says lamb farmer John Jamison of Latrobe-based Jamison Farms.
In Jamison Farm's most recent newsletter, John recounts a humorous occasion when the acclaimed late French chef Jean-Louis Palladin visited to see the spring lambs. Told that the flock in the pasture before them had approximately 300 lambs, 300 ewes and only four rams, the Frenchman marveled and merely said, “Ooh la-la!”
“Spring lamb” generally means animals between 3 and 5 months old, weighing around 15 pounds and “milk fed,” that is, still not weaned from their ewes. To celebrate and embrace spring's renewal, agrarian societies the world over have traditionally enjoyed lamb paired with fruity red wines. Lamb meat has milder, more refined flavor, unlike the more robust, earthy flavor of mutton coming from older sheep that have grazed on grass.
Try the following combinations:
In northern Spain, vineyard workers' midday meals in springtime often feature Chuletillas al Sarmiento — Grilled Lamb Chops. Using intensely hot coals from burnt vine clippings, the workers sear the chops briefly to capture the succulent meat's delicious flavors. After adding a sprinkle of sea salt and uncorking a bottle of slightly chilled red wine, they're in business.
Try grilled spring lamb chops with the 2008 El Coto Rioja Crianza, Spain (5634; on sale: $9.99). Made exclusively from tempranillo grapes grown in all three of Rioja's zones of Baja, Alta and Alavesa, the wine embodies Rioja style perfectly.
Aromas of blackberries mingle seamlessly with subtle vanilla notes from aging in American oak barrels. Generous, ripe red fruit flavors follow. Fresh acidity and silky tannins add pitch perfect balance. Recommended.
In Italy, Abbacchio o Capretto Brodettato — Spring Lamb in Egg Sauce — makes a popular choice. In addition to the lamb, the recipe incorporates fresh lemons, chopped onions, parsley, marjoram, dry white wine, ham, butter, egg yolks, olive oil and flour.
This tasty concoction of savory, zesty and creamy flavors pairs well with the juicy 2012 Cantina Zaccagnini “Ikeban” Rosso Colline Pescaresi, Italy (Luxury 31416; $15.99). Made exclusively from Montepulciano d'Abruzzo grapes, the fruit spends 10 days prior to fermentation in an oxygen-free tank to enhance aromas of raspberries and blueberries.
Fresh red-fruit flavors waft from the glass — think of freshly cut strawberries and raspberries. Uplifting acidity and soft tannins balance the dry, yet fruity finish. Highly recommended.
Navarin d'Agneau — Spring Lamb Stew — traditionally graces tables throughout France. Recipes typically use relatively inexpensive cuts such as shoulder, neck and shank with butter, small potatoes, carrots, pearl onions, bay leaves, thyme and beef broth. Cooking at low temperatures for hours renders tender, juicy and flavorful meat with delightful fragrances.
The dish pairs beautifully with southern French red blends such as the 2010 Mas Cristine Côtes du Roussillon, France (Luxury 39658; $19.99). The wine comes from syrah and grenache vines grown in complex soils of schist, colorful quartz and red clay. The view from the vineyard looks down onto the Mediterranean Sea and Collioure, a fishing village famed for producing salted anchovies near the Spanish border.
Located in France's sunniest region, the vines also benefit from the persistent, strong wind known as the Tramontane. The chilly breeze minimizes risks from diseases and reduces yields naturally to enhance concentration and flavors. Hand-harvesting provides another level of quality ensuring pristine grapes for fermentation.
French born Philippe Gard and New Zealander Andy Cook co-own the estate and oversee winemaking. A long fermentation precedes aging 20 percent of the new wine in oak casks. The latter lends tannins to balance the pronounced fruitiness.
The wine's dark color offers black-pepper, dark-fruit and smoky aromas. Rich, ripe black-fruit flavors balance nicely with fresh acidity. Recommended.
Jamison Farms ships fresh frozen lamb packages nationwide. They also offer Sukey Jamison's lamb stew made with a recipe fine-tuned in collaboration with chef Palladin. Details: 800-237-5262 or www.jamisonfarm.com
Dave DeSimone writes about wine for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.