I just love the gorgeous aromas that waft around my kitchen when there is a leg of lamb roasting in the oven and this weekend there will be plenty of fabulous smells as the family gathers for Easter lunch.
The lamb will be dotted with rosemary and garlic and served, still pink, with Yorkshire pudding on the plate and absolutely no mint sauce, but maybe just a hint of redcurrant jelly in the gravy. This will be the centrepiece of what will be a very brief family celebration before they all head off to the four corners of the globe.
So I will uncork a few good bottles to serve alongside and one of these will be the last bottle in a case of claret which was lost in a previous house move decades ago, and came to light when a chest of drawers in the garage was moved to reveal a treasure trove of 30 year-old wine. My emotions when I discovered this wine were mixed – delighted I had found it, but sad I had missed its perfect drinking window – 1983 was a good year for Bordeaux but slightly overshadowed by the 1982 vintage and all those years ago I bought a few cases at what now seems like a ridiculously cheap price.
Since the re-discovery of the last few bottles I have enjoyed opening them, not for special occasions but just to experience their fabulous, delicate, slightly over-the-hill flavours with whatever I have been cooking. What has surprised me is the way the lower alcohol levels of the 1980s, usually around 12.5 per cent compared with nearer 13.5 per cent these days have kept the wine in balance, providing clear, fruit and evolved perfumes alongside an almost refreshing palate. The moral of this particularly bad piece of storage is that you should keep better track of your wine than I did, but if you lose it for a while, don’t despair and just open the bottles.
Bearing in mind the family will want something more robust to go with their lamb I shall also have some younger wines to hand.
Majestic has the 2007 Ch Teyssier from Puisseguin St Emilion, down from £9.99 to just £7.99 on multibuy which I think is a bargain. 2007 wasn’t a great year, but this has bright berry-led fruit with just a hint of leafiness that will accompany herb-spiked roast lamb to perfection. Trade up to Ch Caronne-Ste-Gemme, Haut Médoc 2007 from the same vintage (£13.99, Majestic) which musters more weight, suppleness and finesse. For a real treat try Angélique de Monbousquet 2009 St Emilion Grand Cru (£17.99, Majestic on multibuy) which is a second wine of the fabulous château that Monbousquet has now become.
Always elegant and refined, this property needed the investment of a mega-rich supermarket owner to lift it to the next level. It has taken almost 20 years to achieve this but Monbousquet now commands high respect and high prices. Angélique is fresher, juicier and more immediate than the main wine but its structure and background complexity of cocoa and herbs means that it will drink well now, but if you lose a couple of bottles behind a chest of drawers in your garage it won’t come to any harm for a few years.
Another classic companion with lamb is Rioja. Tasting through a whole range of Riojas recently I was impressed by Baron de Ley Reserva Rioja 2008 (£12.49, Waitrose) for its stylish, strawberry fruit wrapped in supple, structuring tannins. Made from 100 per cent Tempranillo grapes it spends almost two years in American oak but emerges with clear, expressive fruit and with the oak barely perceptible beneath the integrated flavours.
Luis Cañas Selección de la Familia Reserva Rioja 2005 (£15.99, Waitrose) manages even more weight and complexity because it has 15 per cent of other grapes such as Garnacha and Graciano in the blend. This will accompany all the elements of roast lamb, including all the sauces, but if you trade up to the Gran Reserva 2004 level (£22.95, Halifax Wine Co), the intensity is terrific, with grippy tannins balancing out sweet-edged plummy fruit in harmony with balanced, food-friendly acidity.
I have taken to drinking a lot more Pinot Noir recently since it combines extremely well with all kinds of food from baked fish to a medium-weight roast. New Zealand Pinots, particularly from Otago, but also the Martinborough and Marlborough Pinots have developed enough character to be able to stand up to some fairly big flavours on the plate.
For sheer good value head to Ara Pinot Noir 2011 from Marlborough (£10.99, Waitrose) which has light, supple, raspberry-scented notes with enough weight to partner lamb. I am also a fan of the great value flavour in Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference own label Central Otago Pinot Noir 2011 (£10.99). This is a single estate wine from Penguin Sands with a burst of ripe cherry aromas and silky, supple, tannins.
Of course, frequent Yorkshire visitor Larry McKenna of Escarpment produces some of New Zealand’s top Pinots so for a real treat head along to Harrogate Fine Wine where you can find most of the range. Escarpment Pinot Noir 2009 (£18.99, Harrogate) captures complex black cherry and herbal notes that do more than just nod in the direction of Burgundy, but for a real taste of this region trade up to the single vineyard Te Rehua Pinot Noir 2009 (£23.99, Harrogate). This is a serious hand-made wine that truly reflects the winemaker’s art of combining great fruit and attention to detail.
One of the key features of Easter is chocolate and while I won’t be buying Easter eggs this year I will be serving up my favourite selection of chocolate puds over the weekend. I normally pour port alongside anything chocolatey and Warre’s Late Bottled Vintage 2002 (£16.99 at Waitrose until April 2) will go with anything from a cold chocolate tart to a hot chocolate pud. But sticky toffee pudding has been specially requested by the returning offspring and so I will have a small bottle of the rich, raisiny, figgy-flavoured Matusalem, 30-year-old Oloroso sherry (£16.99, Majestic) to pour alongside.