Lamb is such a full-flavored, gamey, fatty, and robust red meat that guarantees a burst of flavor with every mouthful. But it can also be soft and delicate, and what you pair it with can make or break the meal. This means that pairing the perfect wine with lamb is an important – and often incredibly difficult – task.
One wine will work wonderfully with a roast lamb, but it won’t pair well with lamb chops. Another may elevate the flavor of lamb in a rich stew but will leave you with a horrid aftertaste if you pair it with a sizzling seared rack of lamb.
But the honest truth is that picking the best wine pairing with lamb doesn’t have to be an arduous job. In fact, it can be pretty easy when you have a basic understanding of how these two work with one another. That’s what this article is for, after all. Read on to find out all about what wines go with lamb – and which ones don’t!
3 Important Factors to Keep in Mind When Pairing Wine with Lamb
When pairing wine with lamb, there are a handful of factors that you need to consider. While, of course, personal preference –in terms of both lamb and wine – plays a huge role, below are the three important factors to keep in mind.
Does the wine you have your eye on have the chops to work with the lamb dish you have in mind? Let’s find out.
1. Type of Lamb
Will you be cooking a large lamb shoulder, a lean lamb loin, succulent lamb shank, fatty lamb flank, scrumptious lamb sirloin chops, or a classic rack of lamb ribs? All these different cuts of lamb pair with different types of wine.
2. Accompanying Ingredients in the Dish
While the star of the show is most likely going to be the lamb, it’s also important to consider what other ingredients are going to be part of the dish. Certain wines lend themselves very well to specific herbs and spices, so you may want to pair your wine according to the base flavors of your meal rather than the meat.
A Tale of Spice and Wine
- Red Wines: Red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon work particularly well with herbs and spices such as thyme, rosemary, sage, star anise, peppercorns, fennel, mint, cilantro, bay leaves, coriander, cumin and caraway.
- White Wines: White wines like Sauvignon Blanc work well with herbs and spices such as basil, tarragon, dill, chervil, turmeric, and black pepper.
3. The Cooking Method and Duration
The cooking method you’re going to use with your lamb also plays a part in which wine you should pick. In addition, how long you cook your lamb for is also an important factor to keep in mind.
- Lamb that is served pink requires a light-bodied wine or even a Rosé so as not to ruin the delicate flavor of the meat.
- Medium to well done lamb tends to be rich in flavor – especially when roasted – and so a full-bodied wine like a Bordeaux blend will complement the meat’s rich flavor.
- Slow-roasted lamb needs to be accompanied by a mature or very well-balanced wine to properly draw of the lamb’s flavors. Anything else will not do the meat justice.
Best Wine Pairing with Lamb
Now that you know what to keep in mind when pairing wine with lamb, it’s time to get to the meaty bit of this article. Let’s find out what the best wine pairing with lamb is, taking into account the type of lamb, the meal, and the accompanying ingredients.
Wine Pairing with Lamb Chops
Lamb chops are one of the most popular cuts of lamb because it’s full of flavor and is typically very tender. While most people eat loin chops because it’s the leanest and meatiest type of chop, you also get rib chops, arm chops, and shoulder blade chops.
All lamb chops should be served medium-rare. Medium-bodied red wines – like Chianti, Mencia, or an Argentine Malbec – work especially well with lamb chops. This is because they’re flavorful enough to break through the crispy meat on the outside but not too intense that the tender meat inside is overpowered.
The perfect wine pairing with grilled lamb chops that have been cooked on the barbeque will need to be a bit stronger. This is because lamb that has been cooked on the grill will has a strong smoky flavor. Blended reds, Syrahs and Pinot Noirs are perfect for flame-grilled lamb chops.
Wine Pairing with Rack of Lamb
The rack of the lamb is a very popular cut of lamb because it is usually very tender, lean, and flavorful. Lamb racks are usually roasted, grilled, or pan-fried and are prepared with a simple dash of oil and a handful of herbs.
Lamb rack is pink, juicy, and tender with well-rendered fat. It can be served from rare to well done, and the serving temperature should determine which wine you pair it with:
- Rare: Cru Beaujolais, rosé Champagne, or a rich Semillon white.
- Medium: Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer or Chardonnay.
- Well done: Brunello, Bordeaux, or Cabernet Sauvignon.
Wine Pairing with Lamb Shank
Shank is another common cut of lamb that lends itself well to an assortment of meals and cuisines. This cut comes from the hard-working leg of the lamb and so it can be tough and chewy when the cook is rushed which is why lamb shank should be slow cooked over several hours.
When lamb shank is slow-cooked, it becomes fall-off-the-bone tender, juicy, and incredibly flavorful. Because of the extensive cooking process and intense resulting flavor, you’ll need a wine that is strong enough to stand up to this lamb.
Wines that work well with lamb shank include:
- French Rhônes
- Young red Bordeaux
Wine Pairing with Lamb Stew
All different parts of lamb can be used in stew, but lamb shoulder works particularly well. This cut is typically robust, sweet, flavorful, and has plenty of marbling. It’s best to cook lamb shoulder over long periods of time and the result will be melt-in-your-mouth meat.
Lamb stews are usually made with root vegetables, spices, herbs, and lots of stock. Because of all of the flavors already going on in the simmering stew, it’s important to pick a wine that will complement the flavors rather than overpower them.
The ideal wine pairing with lamb stew is a country red or a fruity, full-bodied Merlot.
Wine Pairing with Young Lamb
As the name suggests, young lamb is the meat that comes from a lamb aged 6 to 10 weeks old at the time of slaughter. This meat is enjoyed for its light, tender, and delicate flavor profile.
Because young lamb does not boast the same level of flavor as the meat from mature lamb, you have to be very careful when pairing wine with it. Full-bodied wine will completely overpower the soft taste of young lamb, so avoid this as far as possible.
To make sure you don’t ruin your young lamb meal, opt for a Pinot Noir from a cooler region, rosé, or a light wine with plenty of fruitiness.
Wine Pairing with Lamb Curry
Much like lamb stew, lamb curry can be made from different cuts of the lamb. Most often, lamb shank or shoulder is used in lamb curry and the base of the dish is made from potatoes, onions, and a whole bunch of aromatics.
The key to wine pairing with lamb curry lies in the level of heat. For mild lamb curries, like a Rogan Josh, Malbec, Syrah, Duoro red, rosé Champagne, or Zinfandel work very well. For spicier lamb curries, like a Bhuna Gosht, Pinot Gris, aged Rieslings, French Rhônes, or Gewürztraminer are ideal.
Heat aside, the sauce of the curry is also a determining factor as to which wine will work well.
- Green sauces: A herbal curry base is best complimented by sparkling wines and Sauvignon Blancs.
- Red sauces: Bases that contain lots of acidic flavors are difficult to pair. A rosé, Gamay, Grenache, and Syrah are safe bets.
- Creamy sauces: Cream-based sauces work particularly well with Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Chardonnay.
Why Don’t White Wines Work with Lamb Dishes?
The rule of thumb when pairing meat and wine is the rule of red: red wine goes with red meat. Most of the time, white wines simply aren’t intense enough to be paired with lamb. A wine needs to be very acidic to cut through the fat content of lamb, and white wine isn’t known for its acidity.
But, unlike many other rules in the culinary world, this rule is not unbreakable. If you prefer white wine and love lamb, then by all means, pair the two together. As you now know, lamb curry and rack of lamb can often work well with white wines.
When pairing white wine with lamb, try to opt for a complex white that has enough body of its own to complement the meat’s flavor rather than detract from it. Basically, the white wine needs to have enough chops to work with lamb.
White wines that can work well with lamb dishes include white Bordeaux, oak-aged Viognier, crisp Chardonnay, and Gewürztraminer – which is a solid herb crusted rack of lamb pairing.
There’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy a glass of your favorite wine along with your scrumptious lamb dish. Remember to consider the type of lamb, the cooking method and duration, and the other elements of the dish before picking a wine and you’ll be just fine.
Based on all of the above, either Bordeaux, Pinot Noir, or Syrah is the best wine pairing with lamb simply because these wines can be used in the most meals and with the most lamb cuts. If you eat lamb often, and love nothing more than washing the meat down with a sip of wine, these are good wines to keep on hand.
Use the guidelines presented to you in this article to help you decide on the best wine pairing with lamb that works for you and your culinary needs.