Top wine picks for spring lamb dishes
Pairing succulent spring lamb dishes with red wines creates irresistible flavors welcomed the world over. The key comes in using fresh, tender lamb and aromatic, juicy red wines.
In the United States, since 1976 John and Sukey Jamison of Unity-based Jamison Farms have raised grass-fed, high quality lamb prized by leading chefs both locally and nationally. The sheep never receive hormone supplements and antibiotics, and they graze in pastures managed sustainably without herbicides and pesticides. In 2017, the Westmoreland County Conservation District named the Jamisons “Conservation Farmers of the Year.”
“A famous food writer once mentioned that we were prescient to have followed raising lambs on grass,” Sukey Jamison noted recently in the farm's online newsletter. “In reality, it was our inexperience in farming…and our under funding in business that led us to building our own fencing and rotating our animals on smaller pastures instead farming in the traditional way of feeding animals in the barn and making hay on all of our pastures with big noisy equipment that we couldn't afford.”
“Spring lamb” refers to animals between 3 and 5 months old, weighing around 15 pounds and still not completely weaned. The young animals have milder flavor and texture than mutton which comes from older sheep. Jamison Farms ships frozen lamb chops and stews nationally, and the website (jamisonfarm.com/family-lamb-recipes) offers terrific lamb recipes. Try the following pairings:
• In Rioja in northern Spain, vineyard workers often enjoy Chuletillas al Sarmiento — Grilled Lamb Chops — for lunch. Using intensely hot coals from burnt vine clippings, the workers sear the chops briefly to capture succulent, delicious flavors. After adding a sprinkle of sea salt, they pair the chops with slightly chilled red wine.
At home, pair lightly grilled lamb chops with the 2013 Campo Viejo, Rioja Reserva, Spain (9327; On Sale: $10.99). This traditional Rioja blend of tempranillo, garnacha and mazuelo grapes deftly balances ripeness and freshness. After fermentation in stainless steel, the wine ages for 18 months in American and French oak barrels for classic spiciness, one of Rioja's trademarks. Highly Recommended.
• Navarin d'Agneau — traditional French Spring Lamb Stew — uses inexpensive cuts of shoulder, neck and shank meat first browned with butter. Then slowly simmering the lamb in beef broth with small potatoes, carrots, pearl onions, bay leaves and thyme renders tender, flavorful meat with delightful fragrances.
Pair it with 2015 Domaine Alain Mathias, Bourgogne-Épineuil “Tradition,” France (Luxury 49392; $32.99). The wine comes from Pinot Noir grapes grown in northern Burgundy, near Chablis and Tonnerre, on Kimméridgien limestone soils. Beginning in the 1980s, winegrower Mathias led a renaissance in the area, and today he works with his son and daughter-in-law to produce delicious, fruity wine with terrific freshness. The wine balances lovely red fruit of good concentration with pronounced acidity and elegant tannins. Delicious! Highly Recommended.
• The classic Easter dinner dish of Herb-Crusted Leg of Spring Lamb pairs beautifully with the 2015 Domaine Durand, Cornas “Prémices,” France (Luxury 49322; $34.99). This tasty wine comes from brothers Eric and Joël Durand who grow Syrah vines on the northern Rhône Valley's hot, steep granite slopes in Cornas. The wine's dark purple color unfolds irresistible dark cherry and meaty aromas leading to ripe dark fruit flavors with medium concentration. Terrific, fresh acidity creates chiseled balance that frames the wine's frank personality and engaging purity. Highly Recommended.
Dave DeSimone is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.