When spring arrives my mind turns to all of the things that leap out of the garden as the days turn warmer: fava beans, leafy greens, baby turnips, asparagus and artichokes are high on the list. But the garden isn’t the only thing “springing” into action; this is also a superb time of year to indulge in the sweet flavor of lamb.
Harvested between three and five months of age, spring lamb is traditionally milk-fed, and enormously tender. But here in the United States, you’ll find most of the young lamb (which primarily comes from Colorado) is grass or grain fed. Like cattle, the former is better as it doesn’t produce as much fat. Both Australian and New Zealand lamb is delicious — although they often arrive frozen, which isn’t ideal.
Most people are looking to celebrate Easter or Passover with lamb, so demand is high in April. Couple that with the fact that most of the new season lamb wont be in stores until May or June, and you begin to realize that late spring is a prime time to be enjoying gorgeous little racks of lamb.
Being enormously flavorful, and tender to boot, lamb is delicious with many red wines—Cabernet, with its formidable structure, Syrah, which is meaty and spice-laden, and Tempranillo, with a lower-acid tonality that sings with the sweetness of lamb. But in my mind, Merlot wins hands down.
I’d been wanting to try the recently released Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Merlot, so I picked up two tiny, pink racks last week from the butcher and conspired with a few friends to try the two together. After generously slathering the racks with olive oil, sea salt, garlic and rosemary I grilled them up and we sat down to feast.
The kind of Merlot I’m looking for with a young rack of lamb is one that plays to the grape’s intrinsically velvety texture and sensual aromatics. The Vintner’s Reserve Merlot has all of those bells and whistles and more. Sourced primarily from three cooler, hilly spots in Sonoma County fogbelts, the nose shows off high-toned cherry and cassis leaf elements—with a treble note of violet in the background.
The palate is well framed by acidity and has that supple textural core at its center, an interplay that worked superbly with the earthy, sweet roasted flavors of the racks. A friend of mine commented that not enough people were making Merlot like this in America, favoring a Cabernet style for the grape instead.
We lamented this fact, and then gleefully toasted to the authenticity of the Merlot and continued in our rigors, nibbling each bone until the bottle was fully drained—the surest sign of a great food and wine pairing.