Today, I’m experimenting with Moroccan cuisine! I saw this amazing recipe for lamb tagine in the New York Times recently and I really wanted to try it out. It uses lamb shanks that are slow cooked with such spices as saffron, paprika, ginger, cumin, and cayenne. It also incorporates cinnamon sticks and dates (and I live in the land of dates!) into the dish. It is cooked in a Dutch oven, rather than the traditional tagine pot, and garnished with pomegranate seeds and cilantro sprigs. This dish is definitely time consuming – it takes more than 3 hours from start to finish – but it is relatively easy to make and so delicious! I’m keeping the sides simple and serving this with whole wheat couscous.
I’m curious to try two bottles of wine with the lamb tagine. The first is a Bandol from Provence. It is made by Château Sainte Anne and the vintage is 1999.
When I poured the bottle, I was actually surprised as to how light bodied this wine is. It is quite mellow in texture and color. In my opinion, it almost looks like a Barolo.
Being an older wine, the Ste. Anne has taken on orange and terracotta hues. Its aromas also reflect the age. The fruitiness has taken on a jammy quality. Tertiary aromas – like leather and vegetation found on the floor of a forest – have also developed. I think the Bandol went quite well with the lamb tagine. Bandols are known matches for hearty dishes, like meaty stews, especially lamb or game. Lamb tagine is quite rich and it works wonderfully with this wine. Because this is an older wine, the tannins have become quite smooth, which works well with the texture of the lamb, especially one that has been slow cooked to fall off the bone. Older tannins are a great complement to meats cooked in a sauce. The tertiary aromas work well with the gamey qualities of lamb. While the tagine contains numerous spices, none of them are overpowering. If the dish had been too spicy, I would have definitely considered another wine. Instead, the spices enhance the flavors of the lamb – adding complexity – rather than dominating the dish. For this reason, this smooth Bandol works superbly and it is complex enough to keep up with the multitude of flavors in the dish. I really enjoyed this wine with the tagine!
The second bottle I tried was from the Languedoc Roussillon region in Southwest France. It is a 2011 bottle of Clos de la Simonette produced by Mas Champart. Similar to the Bandol, this wine is made mostly of the mourvèdre grape (70%); the rest is grenache.
This is a much younger bottle than the Ste. Anne and it shows. The color is much more vibrant with violet hues.
It also has much more body. It is more tannic and has a higher alcohol content – 14.5% versus Ste. Anne’s 12.5%. In terms of aromas, it is quite robust and intense, yet fresh (freshness is due in part to the fact that this wine is unfiltered). Overall, the Clos de la Simonette is an excellent bottle of wine but I don’t think it was right for this dish. It was too intense in flavor and too robust in texture for the lamb. It kind of drowned out the delicate flavors and tender texture of the lamb. I think this wine would have been much better with grilled steak (cooked rare – undercooked red meats go superbly with wines that have lots of fresh, young tannins).
That the Ste. Anne worked and the Clos de la Simonette didn’t really points to the fact that you always want to strive for equality between the wine and the food in terms of intensity. You never want the wine or the food to overpower the other. Both the Ste. Anne and the Clos de la Simonette are made mostly with the mourvèdre grape, which produces quite robust wines. At only 3 years old, Clos de la Simonette maintained its robustness. With the Ste. Anne, age was the key factor in helping to mellow and smooth out these robust qualities, which better matched the delicateness of the lamb. Time was also key in allowing the Ste. Anne to develop and mature and thereby better complement the complexity of the flavors and spices in the tagine. As such, I don’t think that a young Bandol would have worked as successfully as the 1999 Château Sainte Anne.
As great as the Ste. Anne was with the tagine, an aged Bandol may not be easy to find. A more accessible wine might be a Rioja Reserva from Spain. In order to be called Reserva, the wine needs to spend 1 year in oak and at least 2 years in the bottle before it is released to the market. This is one level up from the Rioja Crianza, which spends 1 year in oak and 1 year in the bottle. The top of the hierarchy is the Gran Reserva, which spends 2 years in oak and 3 years in the bottle. Of course, the price increases as you move up in the hierarchy but Spanish wines tend to be much more moderately priced compared to French or US wines. I did try the tagine with a bottle of Rioja Reserva: Bodegas Faustina V from 2008.
This wine is a bit more robust than the Ste. Anne but definitely more mellow than the Clos de la Simonette. It worked fine with the tagine but my favorite pairing is still the 1999 Ste. Anne, hands-down. If you do find an older Bandol that fits your budget, definitely give it a go. If not, you can opt for a Rioja Reserva instead.
I’ve been saving a really nice bottle of red for almost a year from les Baux-de-Provence. It is a 2008 Equinoxe by Domaine de Lauzières. I tasted this wine at Spring Restaurant in Paris in January 2014 and really loved it.
Provence is most famous for its rosés. In fact, if I’m drinking a rosé, with a few exceptions, I always opt for a bottle from Provence. Besides rosés, Provence produces exceptional reds in Bandol, which are the perfect accompaniment to hearty, rustic meat dishes (I have two great red Bandols that I will feature in the future here). Les Baux-de-Provence is within the larger Coteaux d’Aix en Provence appellation and it was given AOC status in 1995.
The Equinoxe is made with three grapes: Grenache, Cinsault, and Carignan. It has a beautiful ruby red color, as you can see on the edges of the glass in the picture (though this picture definitely does not do the wine justice). The nose is definitely red and black fruits (on the stewed side), there is also some spice as well as some savage/animal notes. It feels fleshy yet round in the mouth, with smooth tannins. This is a well-balanced wine.
The animal aromas definitely call for a lamb dish. Lamb also loves fruity garnishes so the fruity qualities of this wine will complement the lamb well. I also wanted to highlight the Provence origins of this wine in the dish by including local flavors, such as rosemary, thyme, olive oil, and garlic.
I came up with the perfect lamb dish to go with this wine: pan-grilled lamb chops dressed with herb and garlic infused olive oil.
In a bowl, I mixed olive oil with the herbs and the garlic. This will be the finishing oil for the lamb chops when they are done cooking.
I then seasoned the lamb chops with salt and pepper and grilled them in my iron skillet – just a couple of minutes on each side. As soon as they came out of the skillet, I spooned the olive oil mixture and sprinkled some chopped herbs. I let the lamb chops rest with this dressing for a few minutes before serving.
I am serving the lamb chops with a green salad. In order to highlight the Mediterranean flavors of this dish, I sprinkled some feta cheese (that I brought back from my last trip to Turkey) on the salad. I also roasted some cherry tomatoes in the oven for just a few minutes. I absolutely love roasted cherry tomatoes and I think they will go really well with the lamb.
Here’s the finished dish 🙂
When I sat down to dinner, I was almost shocked as to how amazingly delicious this dish is! It is also so fast and easy to prepare. I think this will make a repeated appearance in future dinners. In terms of the pairing, just as I expected, the wine and the lamb complemented each other really well in terms of aromas and flavors. In addition, this wine is not very complex and I wanted to keep the food free of complex sauces and flavors as well, so neither would overpower the other. In that respect, the meal and the wine were perfectly balanced. Also, the tannins of the wine were a great match to the lamb. Because, lamb has a more delicate texture than beef so you want softer tannins. In the case of the Equinoxe, the tannins are quite smooth and they went perfectly well with the texture of the lamb.