Easter is fast approaching and you may be wondering what wine to pair with your Easter lamb feast. There are many options – Bordeaux, Rioja, Barolo, Northern Rhone – but don’t forget to look in your own backyard. Yes, Ontario also makes great wine to pair with lamb. To ensure the wine you choose is made from 100% Ontario grown grapes, look for the VQA logo on the neck of the bottle or the back label. If you’d rather serve ham for Easter then read my post “Great Ontario VQA Wines to Pair with Easter Ham.”, or if you prefer to cook a turkey, then read “Ontario VQA Wines and Christmas Dinner.” (Above photo is courtesy of freedigitalphotos.com.)
Lamb is a very robust meat with rich, earthy flavours, making red wine the best choice to pair with it. Look for medium to full-bodied wines that have what it takes to stand up to the bold flavours of the meat. Some excellent wines to pair with lamb dishes are:
Syrah is a classic grape to pair with lamb. Syrah works especially well because of its earthy, spicy character and deep, dark flavours. The grape’s firm tannins also help cut through the richness and protein in the meat. While not one of Ontario’s dominant grape varieties, there are a few producers who do an excellent job with it.
Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Syrah 2008 VQA Niagara Peninsula ($24.95 at the LCBO and at the winery): Ample dark fruit, spice, white pepper, black licorice, and smoky vanilla aromas. Full and complex with flavours of ripe fruit and spice leading to savoury peppery notes on the finish. Magical with lamb!
Jackson-Triggs Delaine Vineyard Syrah 2007 VQA Niagara Peninsula ($29.95 at the LCBO and at the winery): The grapes were sourced from a single vineyard – Delaine Vineyard – located in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Elegant and seductive with aromas of violets, black pepper, spice and smoke. A silky texture with furry tannins and a long finish.
Merlot’s rich fruit flavours and velvety texture make it another great choice for lamb.
Rosewood Estates Merlot Renaceau Vineyard 2008 VQA Beamsville Bench ($20 at the LCBO and at the winery): Rosewood has managed to coax ripe, complex flavours from the Merlot grapes despite the more challenging vintage. Aromas of spicy plum, black and red cherry, and mocha. Balanced with good concentration and ripe tannins. A very pleasant wine to drink now or you could cellar it 2 to 3 years.
Ravine Vineyard Merlot 2008 VQA St. David’s Bench ($34 at the LCBO and at the winery): Ravine is another Ontario winery that makes consistently good wines. This is an elegant and silky Merlot with wild berries, spice, violets, and a hint of mocha.
Cabernet Sauvignon is considered another classic pairing with lamb. These wines are typically full-bodied, rich, fruity, and intense. The wine’s substantial fruit flavours can complement and add complexity to any lamb dish.
Strewn Premium Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 VQA ($19.95 at the LCBO and online): This Cabernet Sauvignon from the excellent 2007 vintage shows developing aromas of cassis and plum topped with cedar, spice, some dusty earth, and graphite. This is a well-structured wine with ripe, firm tannins that could use a little time to soften more. Flavours of sandalwood, cedar, mineral, black cherry, and black licorice lead to a pleasant, lingering finish.
Cabernet Franc is turning out to be one of Ontario’s signature grapes – in my opinion it’s more successful than Cabernet Sauvignon as it has an easier time ripening in our climate. Cabernet Franc can either be light and fruity in style or it can be fuller, richer and darker. Either one will work well with lamb.
Rosehill Run Cuvee County Cabernet Franc 2007 VQA Prince Edward County ($18.95 at LCBO and online): This is a lighter style of Cabernet Franc with juicy red fruit, some earth, and fresh herbs with very soft tannins. This could even be served slightly chilled in the hot summer months.
Tawse Winery Van Bers Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2008 VQA Lincoln Lakeshore ($47.95 at the winery – if there’s any left): Tawse Cabernet Francs are what made me fall in love with this grape in Ontario. All of their Cab Francs are impressive, but they sell out quickly so they can be difficult to hunt down (I had to mention them anyway, just because they’re so good). Made in a fuller and richer style, but they are still elegant and seductive.
Many wineries around the world blend two or more grape varieties to create complex wines that showcase the best that each grape has to offer. Bordeaux and the wines of the Southern Rhone are perhaps the most famous blended wines, but there are many great examples from Ontario as well. Stratus Vineyards and Hillebrand’s Trius label are known for their fine blends and would work equally well with lamb. Here are some other blends that would make great partners with any lamb dish:
Cave Spring Cellars La Penna 2006 VQA Beamsville Bench ($34 at the LCBO and the winery): A blend of 66% Cabernet Franc and 34% Cabernet Sauvignon. 85% of the fruit was air dried in a way similar to the way Amarone grapes are dried. Rip and rich with spicy dark fruit, black licorice, and chocolate notes.
Nyarai Cellars Veritas 2007 VQA Niagara Peninsula ($24.95 at the LCBO and online) This virtual winery recently won a Best Assemblage for this wine at Cuvee 2011. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Syrah. Drinking beautifully now, this wine is full of flavour with dark berries, plums, forest floor, and spice that lingers deliciously on the palate.
Read my post, “Wine and Chocolate – What More Could You Ask for?” for wine recommendations for chocolate desserts.