What wine goes with lamb?

By BBC Maestro

Food and Drink
Last updated: 14 February 2023

Whether you’re eating out and want to choose the perfect pairing for your lamb main, or you’re hosting a dinner party and want to impress your guests, it’s always a good idea to know which wine to pair with your food.

So, in this article, we’re asking the all important question for wine lovers: what wine goes with lamb?

Wine and food pairings

First, though, it’s important to understand the science between food and wine pairings. Although it’s quite complex, there are some general rules that people tend to stick to when it comes to wines and food.

The main rules that you need to know are:

  • Your wine should be more acidic than your food
  • Your wine should be sweeter than your food
  • Aim for a similar ‘weight’ when it comes to food and wine pairings
  • Match the character, flavour and intensity of the food and wines

The first two points are self-explanatory, but the second two need slightly more explanation.

When we speak of the ‘weight’ of food and wine, we’re not talking about its physical weight in terms of kilograms. Rather, what we mean is that you should consider pairing heavy, rich meals with rich, full-bodied wines, and lighter food with lighter wines. Chicken, for example, is a light food that may be overpowered by a rich red wine. Traditionally, then, chicken is usually paired with a white wine like sauvignon blanc, while lamb – a far richer meat – can handle a heavier wine, like shiraz.

The next tip, to match the flavour and intensity, is similar. You should consider the characteristics of the food and wine to get the perfect match. If you’re having a rich, creamy sauce then you may want to drink a rich wine. Spicy food goes well with spicy wine, and a light, lemony fish dish would go well with a pinot gris with citrus notes.

While wine expert Jancis Robinson is sceptical when it comes to rules around wine and food pairings, she does follow the recommendation to match the weight of the dish to the weight of the wine. As she explains in her BBC Maestro course, An Understanding of Wine:

“If you have a very tannic, chewy young red, and you want to make it taste less tannic and young – you want to add years of maturation to it – serve it with a chewy food, which is often meat, and that red would go with that sort of dish. But you could also have a very full-bodied white. So don’t be too colour restricted.”

Jancis encourages you to think freely when it comes to choosing wine to go with your food, particularly when it comes to the colour of wines. She says: “There are various rules that we’ve all grown up with, like with meaty dishes you drink red wine and with fish, you drink white wine. But rules are there to be broken, aren’t they?”

Sometimes, though, you just want someone else to do the legwork – so with that in mind, here are our recommendations for how to pair wine with different lamb dishes. You should consider the cut of meat you’re using, how you’re cooking it and how it’s being served when choosing the wine pairing. It’s traditional to pair lamb with red wine, but as Jancis notes, you shouldn’t feel restricted by colour when choosing wines.

red wine

Wine to drink with roast lamb

Whether it’s an Easter feast or you’re having the family round for a Sunday lunch, a lamb roast is often a firm favourite. Whether you’re roasting a leg or shoulder of lamb, your wine choice may be dictated more by your cooking style and what you’re serving it with.

If you’re cooking a traditional roast shoulder of lamb with lashings of gravy and all the trimmings, or following Marco Pierre White’s recipe for roast rump of lamb à la Dijonnaise, then you might want to choose a deep, rich red wine that can stand up against the full flavours of your dish. A cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir would both work well with this type of roast lamb. But if you’re looking for something different, a weighty rosé wine would work beyond the traditional reds.

On the other hand, if you’re using lots of herbs and spices for a more Greek or Italian style feast, then consider choosing a wine region that matches your food’s flavour profile, such as a Chianti.

Wine pairing for young lamb

Young lamb, or spring lamb as it’s sometimes called, usually has a light flavour, and is often served pink. For this reason, you may want to avoid the traditional full-bodied red wines that you’d serve with a traditional roast dinner as you run the risk of overpowering the delicate flavour of your food.

This cut of lamb offers the perfect opportunity to try a rosé or even a white wine with your lamb dish. Try a complex white wine like chardonnay or gewurztraminer.

Lamb shank wine pairing

As one of the most flavourful cuts of lamb, you’ll want a rich, full-bodied wine that can match the intensity of a lamb shank. Many people choose to slow-cook lamb shanks to draw out the flavour, but whichever way you decide to cook it, you can’t go wrong with a rich, dark and juicy malbec. A fruity Rioja is also a delicious choice for a slow-cooked lamb dish, with lots of tannins to cut through the rich flavour of the meat.

Wine to pair with lamb chops

Lamb chops have an earthy flavour that is perfect for a winter’s day, served alongside potatoes and root vegetables. Medium-bodied red wines like Syrah and tempranillo both work well with the flavours of this cut, especially if you’ve prepared the meat with rosemary.

wine with lamb dish

Lamb curry wine pairing

Your choice of wine with a lamb curry should be dictated by how spicy your food is, and it can work well with both red and white wine. A mild lamb curry works well when offset by the richer flavours of a Syrah or malbec, while a spicy curry is delicious when paired with an acidic white wine like Riesling.

Wine for lamb tagine

A lamb tagine, with North African spices and dried fruit, is a rich dish that is warming but not particularly spicy. It’s full of flavour and, as such, needs a flavourful wine that matches the dish’s intensity. A fruity red wine will work well to offset the sweet spices of the tagine, such as a grenache, but you could also opt for a rich and spicy white wine, such as viognier.

 

As you can see, there are endless possibilities when it comes to pairing wines with lamb dishes. Whether you follow the rules or experiment with different types of wine and flavour profiles, the most important thing is to find a pairing that you enjoy. As Jancis Robinson says, “if it’s not an absolutely perfect match, what’s the worst that can happen?” 

Want to find out more about the intricacies of wine? From understanding wine terminology such as appellation, to learning more about the different wine regions, sign up for Jancis Robinson’s BBC Maestro course and delve deep into the world of wine. 

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