Of all the dinners in all the world, lamb is one of the most joyful to eat with red wine. Its classic match is cabernet sauvignon: there is extraordinary synergy between even the most green and tannic of clarets and this almost herbally scented meat.
At the very lowest level, you can open an inexpensive bottle of not-very-good, sawdust-and-teabag-sweepings-tasting supermarket red bordeaux (usually a merlot-cabernet blend), stick it with a lamb chop, and taste in amazement as the wine seems richer, fruitier and more vital.
For Easter lamb, however, I think we can do better than cheap claret. The stream of fantasy wines with plates of lamb that fills my head in gluttonous moments is almost never-ending.
The grenache-syrah-mourvèdre blend has a gorgeous, rasping wind-dried herb quality that picks up on the fragrance of the lamb
I give you: tiny little costolette d’agnello, sliced from the rack, with a squeeze of lemon and a glass of chianti; the char of barbecued lamb with a table full of salads and an earthy Lebanese red; a slow-cooked daube from Provence made with thyme and olives and eaten with garlicky stuffed tomatoes and courgettes, and a glass of bandol; spicy (ginger, cumin and black pepper) leg of lamb with an expansive, mulberry-scented Australian shiraz. I could go on. All day.
However, I think what you might be cooking on Easter Sunday is leg of lamb with anchovies, garlic and rosemary pushed into little slits in the meat so their salty-savoury flavour infuses through. But what do I know?
Easter is a time of year at which I feel like Cathy, the Jehovah’s Witness I used to sit next to in maths at school. The rest of the country carries on as if this four-day weekend is a second Christmas, a family holiday at which lamb replaces the turkey or goose on the dinner table.
My family has just never ‘done’ Easter. Yes, we were given chocolate eggs as children – things weren’t that bad – but then Dad probably got on with unblocking the guttering while Mum made a meat-and-potato pie for tea.
We’ve never had special Easter food and, as an adult, there’s certainly never been an invitation to go home for Sunday lunch.
So I can only imagine that the rest of the country is sitting down to leg of lamb, in which case any of the wines I’ve mentioned will go beautifully.
Another glorious option is grenache, or the grenache-syrah-mourvèdre blend – in other words, wines from the southern Rhône, which will encompass Châteauneuf-du-Pape as well as Côtes du Rhône, Gigondas, Vacqueyras and so on, or similar blends from America or Australia. These have a gorgeous, rasping wind-dried herb quality that picks up on the fragrance of the lamb.
If the lamb is more slow-cooked and brown (all the way through) than seared and pink, then a mellow rioja will slip gently in with the richness of the meat. I’ve picked some specific bottles here.
Meanwhile, in breaking news, I’ve just received my first ever invitation home for Easter. Perhaps I’ll even take one of them myself.
The 10 wines for Easter lamb
2013 The Liberator Episode Five – Old Breton Cabernet Franc, Franschhoek, South Africa
14 per cent, £16.50, winetrust.co.uk
The Liberator is a label set up to free vinous gems – small parcels of delicious wines – for which makers have no commercial use, saving them from being blended into obscurity. I love this cabernet franc – a richly textured, leathery, red berry-ish incarnation of the Loire’s main red grape.