Lamb is often thought of as a meat for special occasions. In many countries, it is the meat chosen for Easter celebrations. It is also often served at dinner parties with all the trimmings such as roast potatoes, mint sauce, and lots of vegetables.
Lamb has a rich flavor with a tender texture. It does contain a lot of fat and it can have a gamey flavor. It is often served as a roast but there are many other ways to prepare lamb such as curries, in a stew, or as chops.
The chances are that you will serve wine with your lamb dish but which wine goes best? In this article, we will be looking at the different ways of preparing lamb and which wines go with these different methods.
Basic Facts About Pairing Lamb and Wine
Lamb is considered to be a red meat and the rule is generally that you pair red meat with red wine. However, even though this is always the case when it comes to beef, it isn’t always the case with lamb.
Yes, red wine is acidic, bold, and has rich tannins which cut through the meat’s high-fat content but there are some ways of preparing lamb which will pair with white wine.
However, the white wine needs to be medium to full-bodied to be able to stand up to the richness of the meat.
If you prefer to drink white wine, as well as the preparation of the meat, you will have to consider the spices and herbs that you are going to use.
Here are 3 basic rules to follow.
1 – Cooking Style
If you cook your lamb rare or medium-rare, it can pair with white wine. However, if you prefer your lamb medium to well-done, red wines with their bold and complex flavors are the best choices.
2 – Lamb Cuts
Simple lamb chops without any adornment will pair with white or rose wine while lamb shanks are juicy and tender and suit bold red wines. Roast lamb has a bold flavor as well so needs a rich red wine.
3 – Herbs and Spices
If you are using herbs and spices to flavor your lamb, you need to choose a wine that pairs with its flavors. For example, if the lamb is seasoned with soft herbs such as basil, dill, or tarragon, white wine will complement the dish.
If you are using hard herbs such as rosemary or thyme or spices such as chili, you will need to serve the lamb with red wine.
Wine and Lamb Pairings
Of course, personal choice is a factor when choosing a wine to pair with lamb. There’s no point choosing a bold red wine if you hate red wine and only enjoy white.
However, if you enjoy both and your guests do as well, we are going to recommend wine varietals to serve with different lamb dishes.
As a rule of thumb, most lamb dishes pair with such red wines as Pinot Noir and Bordeaux blends. These wines are salty, with a touch of sweetness that balances the richness of the lamb.
What you don’t want to do is overpower the flavors of the lamb and neither do you want the lamb to overpower the flavors of the wine. What you need is the perfect balance and here we will give you our choices of wine to serve with different types of lamb dishes.
1 – Roast Lamb
Roast lamb is the ultimate lamb dish, wonderful served on special occasions and holidays such as Easter. The most common cut of lamb used in a roast is the leg but you could also use a rack of lamb.
It can be served anywhere between medium-rare and well-done. It all hinges on what you and your guests prefer.
The rich flavors of the lamb pair well with red wines with a red fruit flavor, such as raspberries and strawberries. If you cook your lamb medium-rare, you can serve a lighter-bodied red wine such as Pinot Noir.
It has berry flavors of cherry, strawberry, and raspberry and spiced aromas which go well with the lamb. It isn’t too overpowering so you can still taste the flavors of the meat.
If you add Italian-inspired herbs to the lamb such as rosemary, oregano, and garlic, you should pair the dish with an Italian wine such as Sangiovese Grosso or Chianti Classico.
They both have flavors of red fruits, dried herbs, and balsamic vinegar which pair well with the bold flavors of the dish.
2 – Lamb Chops
Lamb chops are a much simpler dish than roast lamb, often served on a weekday evening with boiled potatoes and carrots or peas. It can be turned into a heartier dish by the addition of a mushroom or onion gravy.
If you are serving them simply without gravy, a lighter-bodied red wine such as Pinot Noir is a good pairing. The earthy notes of the lamb chops are balanced by the sweet red berry taste of Pinot Noir.
If you aren’t keen on red wine, you can serve the chops with a sparkling rose as it will bring a red fruit flavor to the mix.
If you are serving the chops with a rich gravy, a bolder red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot will complement the dish.
3 – Spring Lamb
This is a great delicacy and therefore it needs careful consideration when pairing it with wine. It is usually served rare and tender, and it melts in your mouth. The best choice of wine to pair with this cut of lamb is a vintage rose.
The fruity flavor of a rose doesn’t overpower the subtle flavor of the lamb. You can also pair it with Pinot Noir which is a light red wine that won’t overpower the subtleness of the lamb.
4 – Braised Lamb Shanks
Lamb shank has rich flavors but you have to be careful when you are cooking the meat because it can become chewy. You need to cook it long and slow on low heat to get tender and juicy lamb.
To enhance the flavor, cook the shanks in a tomato paste.
Braised lamb shanks are best paired with red wines that have a strong, fruity flavor such as Tempranillo or Malbec. Both have cherry flavors and Malbec also tastes of raspberries.
If you want to impress your guests, choose a Syrah which has bold red and black flavors. It also has a high ABV which adds boldness and a richer taste to the lamb.
5 – Grilled Lamb
If you grill or barbecue lamb, you end up with a smoky flavor that needs to be balanced by the wine you serve. Once again, the versatile Pinot Noir is a good match, or you could serve a dry rose wine.
There’s nothing wrong with serving a bolder red wine as the flavor of the lamb is strong. A Syrah is a good match. Cool climate wines are perfect, especially those that are fruity and end with a peppery taste.
If you want to add even more flavor to your lamb, rub it in herbs or spices or both before cooking. Barbecued lamb with spices such as chili or hot paprika needs a bolder wine such as Grenache or Merlot while a herb-based rub pairs well with refreshing rose wines.
You could even have a sparkling rose to make it more of an occasion.
6 – Lamb Curry
It is more difficult to decide which wine to serve with lamb curry as curries can be made with a wide variety of ingredients and can range from mild to burning the roof of your mouth off. It is all a matter of personal taste.
If you are having a milder curry, sweeter wines are the best, such as Syrah or Malbec. They are smooth wines that add a touch of richness to the curry.
If, however, you prefer a spicy curry, a wine with low acidity is the best pairing and here you can go for a white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc or a dry Riesling as they won’t overwhelm the spiciness of the curry.
They also refresh your mouth from the spiciness.
7 – Lamb Tagine
Lamb tagine is a Moroccan dish that is made with many spices. Different chefs may use different spices but they could include cumin, garlic, ginger, chili, paprika, coriander, or turmeric. Herbs such as parsley may also be used.
The meat is put in a pot with a conical lid which helps to retain moisture and circulate steam. It is slow-cooked for several hours.
A lamb tagine needs a wine that will enhance the flavor of the spices. Dry and fruity red wines such as Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Valpolicella Classico, Zinfandel, and Dolcetto are all good choices.
However, it is not impossible to drink a white wine with lamb tagine. An oak-aged Viognier works well. It has a creamy taste with hints of vanilla. It can stand up to the spices well.
8 – Lamb Stew
Lamb stew is a homely meal, lovely on a cold winter’s night. You can use any cut of lamb in a lamb stew but the best cut is the shoulder. Put in any herbs and spices that you want, and vegetables.
Root vegetables like carrots and parsnips are good choices.
Because lamb stew isn’t too overpowering, medium-bodied red wine is the best choice, such as Rioja Crianza or Merlot. They won’t overpower the dish.
Is It a Good Idea to Pair Lamb With White Wine?
White wine is not the first choice when pairing lamb with wine. However, if the dish is simple, it will work but you will still have to choose a complex, medium to full-bodied white wine.
Wine pairing is not something that you can learn overnight but with a bit of practice, you can become an expert and choose the best wines to pair with your lamb.
We hope that our suggestions will help and that you will impress your guests with your choice of wine when you serve them a delicious lamb dish.