For many of us, pairing the right bottle of wine with food can be quite a challenge. But if you do it right, it can take your meal to a whole new level. The basic universal rule is to pair the color of your wine to the color of your food. Red wines go with red meats, white wines with white meat, and pink wines with pink meat. But when it comes to pairing wine with lamb, the rules can go out the window.
Lamb is an incredibly wine-friendly meat. It pairs well with a red Bordeaux, and it also goes with fruitier wines of the new world. When you are looking for an exact pairing, the most important things to consider are – how you will cook the meat, how long you will cook it, and how old it is.
Is Lamb Red or White Meat?
Under the culinary definition, lamb is white meat because it comes from young mammals. However, the USDA considers any meat from a mammal to be red meat, regardless of the age or cut. According to Berkeley Wellness, lamb is a “red meat” because it’s high in myoglobin, a protein in muscle that turns red when combined with oxygen.
However, some cuts of lamb are not high in saturated fat like other red meats. In fact, they can be leaner than some higher-fat poultry like duck and chicken wings and thighs. The leaner your cut of lamb is, the lighter the wine you can pair it with.
A rich cut will pair beautifully with a bold and high tannin red wine, like a Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz. For a cut of lamb with a more delicate texture and flavor, look for a red with finer tannins, like a Pinot Noir or Malbec. If you prefer white wine, a good Gewürztraminer or a California Chardonnay make a fine pairing for a lean cut of lamb.
When you are serving lamb, there are a number of wines to choose from that cater to your recipe, personal taste, and budget. Here is a beginner’s guide for pairing wines with lamb and creating a perfect match.
Different Types of Lamb Call for Different Wines
According to Matching Food and Wine, the type of lamb dish you are preparing determines the perfect wine pairing. You will never go wrong with a top-quality Bordeaux, no matter how you prepare your lamb. But certain types of lamb dishes go even better with certain types of wine.
Spring lamb served pink with vegetables
Cuts like leg of lamb and rack of lamb pair best with a Pinot Noir or a dry rosé
Roast lamb served medium-rare to well-done, with a gravy or wine sauce
Preparing a leg of lamb this way calls for a younger red Bordeaux, Cabernet, Cabernet/Merlot blend, or a Chianti Classico.
When preparing lamb chops on the grill with a side of veggies, a medium-bodied red wine, such as a Chianti, pairs well.
Slow-roast shoulder of lamb
This is a fattier dish, especially if made with older lamb like hogget or mutton. A bold Spanish red is a good choice.
When barbecuing lamb, the proper wine pairing depends on the rub or marinade. For spicy seasonings, you will need a sweet fruit wine like an Australian Shiraz. If it’s marinated Greek-style, look for a less-fruity wine with more acidity, like a Chianti. If you prefer white, a crisp Greek white like Assyrtiko pairs well. You can also opt for a strong, dry rosé.
The best pairings for lamb are found in red wines, like a rich Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, classic Bordeaux, or Chianti.
No matter how you prepare your lamb, a Bordeaux like Lacoste Borie pairs nicely. This elegant wine features dark fruits, intriguing spice, and perfectly round tannins. It’s the perfect compliment for a delicious dish like the classic crown of lamb from The Spruce Eats.
Cataldi Madonna Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2008
This budget-friendly wine has a deep ruby red color and a pleasing aroma of black cherry, blueberry, plum, carob, and violet. The finish has flavors of black cherry and plum, which pairs well with the marinated boneless leg of lamb in this recipe for Lemon-and-Fennel Roasted Lamb with Polenta.
Truchard Cabernet Sauvignon
If you are serving lamb for a special dinner or holiday, it’s the perfect time to try a really nice Cab Sav like Truchard. Everyone at your table will enjoy this lamb wine pairing because of its rich red fruit notes and ripe array of tannins. Truchard Cabernet Sauvignon is a nice pairing for a rack of lamb with red wine sauce.
2009 Vineyard 29 Cru Cabernet Sauvignon
This Napa Valley Cab Sav pairs perfectly with a simple roasted lamb recipe that includes a coconut milk-based sauce and veggies. According to chef Jeff Smith, substituting brown sugar for white when glazing vegetables “adds a deeper kind of sweet note.” This creates a delicious combination of flavors between food and drink.
Layer Cake Shiraz
Layer Cake is an affordable Australian Shiraz that all of your dinner guests will love. This spicy, rich red pairs with lamb chops Dijon for a mouthwatering dinner that will leave you and your guests extremely happy.
2008 Mercer Estates Cabernet Sauvignon
The Mercer Estates 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon was produced from fruit sourced at three different locations. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (90%), this wine also contains small amounts of Merlot (5%), Syrah (4%), and Petit Verdot (1%). Pair this wine with a seasoned lamb dish like Slow-Roasted Lamb Shoulder with Almond Mint Pesto.
Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico Famiglia Zingarelli
This Italian wine is a semi-dry red with a medium body that has a nice fruitiness. Not only is Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico Famiglia Zingarelli budget-friendly, but it also pairs perfectly with Italian grill lamb chops.
While red wine is the best for lamb pairing, there are still whites that will work well with a variety of recipes and budgets.
Le G de Château Guiraud
Bordeaux wines are a great match for lamb, with the dry white Le G de Château Guiraud being an exceptionally strong and affordable choice. The slightly dry wine has nice acidity and grapefruit-dominated citrus notes. For a dinner to remember, pair this wine with rosemary-garlic lamb shoulder and sweet potatoes.
Tramin Nussbaumer Gewürztraminer
When pairing white wine with lamb, you must be choosy. However, you can’t really go wrong with Gewürztraminer. This option is a bit pricey, but it’s a worthy companion for a special dish like Porchetta-style roast lamb.
Mark West Chardonnay
This budget-friendly white is a nice pairing for a flavor-packed dish like Moroccan grilled lamb chops. Mark West Chardonnay costs less than ten dollars and is very easy to find. It features fruit notes of citrus, pear, peach, and green apple along with a gentle oak.
If you prefer a rosé with lamb, Bandol has fantastic choices.
Bieler Père et Fils Réserve Rosé
One of the best Provençal rosés you can find, Bieler Père et Fils Réserve Rosé is made from red wine grapes. It offers dry acidity with herbal and strawberry notes, making it ideal for a dish like rosemary garlic lamb shanks.