Searching for the perfect bottle for lamb tagine
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.