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Wine with Easter Lamb

My friend Cliff’s son married a Greek woman and Cliff now spends Easter in Greece with them. Easter is a big festival and their traditional dish is lamb. My mouth waters when Cliff describes how it is roasted whole on a spit over an open wood fire.

Eating lamb at Easter is no co-incidence. This time of year the new lambs are being born and lamb has great religious significance. Lamb as a burnt offering is mentioned in the book of Genesis, and has great meaning in the Christian church. For hundreds of years, Popes at the Vatican have been served roasted lamb for their Easter meal.

But what wine to serve with wine? There is a schism among wine lovers. There are those who think red Burgundy (or Pinot Noir) is perfect and those who know that Bordeaux (or a Cabernet Merlot blend) is the only possible match.
Those in the first group point to the soft silkiness of Pinot and how its subtle nature aligns with the delicate flavour of the lamb.

The claret camp disagrees. Lamb is a fatty meat with a robust flavour, they say, and needs a Cabernet dominated wine, such as one from the Bordeaux commune of Pauillac. And the ultimate proof of Pauillac’s compatibility with wine is in the name of one of Pauillac’s – and the world’s – most famous and expensive wines: Chateau Mouton Rothschild. For Mouton is the French word for sheep.

So what wine does pair well with roast lamb? Since there is no agreement among wine experts, and because Burgundy and Bordeaux are quite different wines it means this is a match in which you cannot go wrong.

Personally I prefer Bordeaux over Burgundy, but I’m certain that the diners in the small Greek village where Cliff spends Easter have neither. More likely they’re opening a local wine such as Xinomavro or Aghioghitiko.

If you can’t access Greek wines look out for Tempranillo, which would be my second choice after claret. Spain’s Rioja is the classic example with Marques de Caceres and Marques de Riscal being reliable brands widely distributed. Tempranillo is also becoming more planted in the new world and I have had excellent examples from California, Texas and South Africa.

But it’s hard to think of a red wine that wouldn’t satisfy.

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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.

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