Best Wine to Pair With Lamb Shanks

Overcooked, battered and abused? No longer. Americans tended to eat less lamb than any other red meat, but consumption has come up bit since younger chefs traveled to discover its intense, interesting flavor and learned the correct way to cook the meat. Finer restaurants have been released from their fears that guests will reject a lamb dish now that it is properly prepared. This influence, coupled with the flood of immigrants who serve lamb as a staple, has greatly increased the popularity of the meat, particularly lamb shanks, in this country.

“Falling off the bone” is big for this dish, and braising (that is, cooking in liquid) is the most expedient means to this end. Common liquids used are stock, bouillon, wine or tomato sauce, sometimes in combination. Accoutrements can include mint jelly, white beans and bacon or the addition of garlic or rosemary. A Greek slant uses cinnamon as the flavor note within a tomato sauce. Not surprisingly, an Italian version which also includes tomato sauce, highlights garlic and Italian olives, calls for pasta served with the sauce from the meat and is topped with parmesan cheese.

Upon deciding among the seductive choices for preparation, one might ask what wine could possibly deserve marriage to this intriguing partner? We asked one visitor center owner, two chefs and me (!) to assist in the match making.

Tablas Creek LabelI like to braise lamb shanks with Provençal herbs, kalamata olives, mushrooms and tomatoes in a full-bodied, red wine sauce. The dish’s rich, earthy, pungent flavors are perfect on a cool, rainy night. One of my favorite accompaniments is the Tablas Creek “Esprit de Beaucastel Rouge” Paso Robles, with its dark, red fruit, brambly spice and richness in the mouth. Its intense fruit and spice harmonize with the meal, while its cleansing acidity is the perfect offset. This red wine is a classic southern Rhône blend of mourvèdre, grenache, syrah and counoise from the team at Chateau de Beaucastel. A great food wine which stands up to intense, savory stews and cold winter nights.  – Gregg Lamer, Owner, Amador 360 Wine & Visitor Center, Plymouth, CA.

Lafite Rothschild Pauillac LabelWe just returned from a trip to France and did enjoy Bordeaux reds with lamb dishes. A lamb shank with its animal, salt marsh, feed flavors roasted with herbs and garlic goes so well with a red Bordeaux like a Pauillac. The slight saltiness of the lamb creates yin yang with the hint of sweet, red fruit from the Pauillac. My favorite with this lamb, would be either a Mouton Rothschild Pauillac or a Lafite Rothschild Pauillac. I love them both equally. I love them so much that our loyal basset hounds have been dubbed with the names of Mouton and Lafite. Do we love French wines and food? I think ‘yes’! Christmas in Paris is a culinary experience. –  Master Chef Julie Tan, Certified Master Chef, Sommelier and Taster; Chef Instructor, LeCordon Bleu San Francisco, CA.

Cain Five LabelLamb Shanks Braised with Shiitake and Dried Porcini. Served with Blood Orange Gremolata. 2006 Cain Five, Spring Mountain. A big wine with a big dish! Not your average $100 Napa ‘killer cab’, this flagship ‘Five’ blend made a name for Cain. The wine was created to reflect the mountainside vineyard where the grapes are grown. Earthy undertones, subtle fruit and hints of bay and tar weed will pair nicely with this mushroom scented dish. Blood orange gremolata (finely minced orange zest, parsley and garlic) adds a fresh highlight to the rich lamb and pushes the herbal notes of the wine. – Matt Bennett, Chef, MattCooks, St. Helena, CA.

Acacia Wine LabelA classic preparation for lamb shanks is slow roasting with a few simple ingredients: ground black pepper, fresh rosemary and garlic cloves stuffed throughout. For this dish, I wanted a rich, inky, earthy pinot noir, and I remembered the Acacia Beckstoffer pinot I had from Las Amigas Vineyard that knocked me out in the tasting room. Its intense blackberry and blueberry fruit dazzles while being saved from “fruit bomb” status by its surprising earthy density. The 2007 version boasts darker fruit than found in previous vintages, punctuated by an edgy spice. This wine has the complexity to enhance the rosemary in the lamb, while its robust structure stands up to the rich meat. – Paula Barker, Wine Writer, IntoWine.com, Santa Ana, CA.