The spate of good weather spoiled me. In my head I imagined that Yorkshire had somehow moved closer to Tuscany or the South of France and that summer will unfurl with the prospect of endless days of sunshine, eating outside and the scent of wild thyme and rosemary wafting on the breeze.
With the barbecue already cleaned of its winter grime and the garden chairs settled into position on the lawn, my wine choices have accelerated through early spring and are now approaching summer which is a sure sign of danger. Just as going out with an umbrella keeps the rain away, I have included several cold-weather options in my selection for this weekend which are closer to the climatic realities of a normal Yorkshire springtime.
English lamb is now in the shops, but if you want local lamb head for your nearest farm shop. It is sweet and tender and is just perfect for Easter. If you have a joint of English lamb sitting in your fridge ready for tomorrow, then you have a treat in store. But the flavour is so delicate it really doesn’t need all the usual accompaniments that might just drown it. Go easy on the redcurrant jelly and certainly don’t let mint sauce within a mile of your plate. Wines must be chosen with care so they sit in harmony with the food rather than dominate.
Rioja is the classic wine to accompany lamb. Its gentle cherry and redcurrant fruit flavours marry perfectly with the pink, juicy meat, but I prefer my Rioja to be packed with youthful fruit rather than boxed in with hefty oak.
Rioja comes in various age categories. Joven is the young version, often without oak ageing, or perhaps with just a few months spent in oak. Crianza has spent a year in barrel while Reserva and Gran Reserva have increasing levels of oak. Only the best vintages are allowed to age for several years in wood which is why they are so expensive, but for my tastebuds the young fruity flavours of Joven or Crianza wines make the best companions for lamb.
Head to Majestic where they have around 20 per cent off most of their Spanish range which should make choosing your minimum six-bottle purchase easy. Tasted recently, Rioja Crianza 2008 Gran Vendema (down from £9.99 to £5.99 on multibuy) is terrific value with light, bright redcurrant fruit and just enough depth to partner a plateful of lamb. Trade up to Cune Rioja Crianza 2008 (down from £9.99 to £7.99 on multibuy). Although the deal doesn’t appear to be quite as good, you get a lot more depth and another layer of complexity in the Cune wine.
Sainsbury has a bright, young, lively Rioja, Marqués de Montino Rioja Joven 2009 which I thought was pretty good value at its full price of £6.99 but now it is on offer at three bottles for £13 until April 17, so it is well worth a detour. While you are at Sainsbury, buy a bottle of their own-label Taste the Difference Ribera del Duero 2010 at £8.99. Also famous for the quality of its lamb dishes, Ribera del Duero is west of Rioja, on a high plain where cold weather shortens the growing season and causes great concentration of flavour in the grapes. This 100 per cent Tempranillo wine is packed with dark-flavoured raspberry fruit, more sturdy in style and more suited to an older, more flavourful hogget rather than the pale meat of new spring lamb, especially once you have added the roast potatoes, veg and bizarrely, the Yorkshire pudding which is obligatory at all main meals when the family descend.
If your students are heading home with their friends, their washing, and their uncanny ability to clean out the wine stocks then stock up with Gran Lopez from Waitrose (£4.99). Made from a blend of Garnacha and Tempranillo, it comes from Campo de Borja which is just south of the Rioja region and this wine doesn’t see oak. It is packed full of fresh-tasting raspberry and blackberry fruit and will not only accompany lamb but will also be perfect with all kinds of late night suppers.
Claret is a classic choice when it comes to lamb and Majestic score well again with Ch Bessan-Ségur 2008 Médoc, Cru Bourgeois, now down from £9.99 to £7.99 on multibuy. This is a well-structured, elegant wine and the extra bottle will come to no harm for several years, if it doesn’t get drunk immediately. Trade up to Ch. La Vieille Croix 2005 from Fronsac, down from £19.99 to £14.99 on multibuy which is chock full of savoury complexity and ripe tannins that can take on a whole range of flavours.
If your Easter lamb is the pinkest and palest sort and comes with just a handful of spring veg then Pinot Noir may be the best choice. I have been writing about all the wonderful New Zealand Pinots recently, so instead head to the more restrained, savoury character of Burgundy and Bourgogne Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes 2010 from Nicolas Potel, (down from £11.99 to £9.99 on multibuy) has clear strawberry fruit with a whiff of truffle earthiness behind. Trade up to Jadot’s Beaune 1er Cru 2008 at £17.99 on multibuy for gentle elegance and smooth complexity.
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. Port is always a good standby when it comes to the big flavours in a dark chocolate mousse or my speciality runny chocolate pud and Taylors LBV 2005 (widely available, around £13.79) has dark plummy fruit and a touch of spice. For lighter desserts such as a chocolate-dipped raspberry meringue try Andrew Quady’s Black Muscat (£9.99 Majestic for half a bottle) from California’s Central Valley. It has a delicious light, floral aroma and a soft, juicy, grapey flavour.
If the sun shines for the weekend and it is warm enough to sit in the garden then we should all raise a glass of fizz to celebrate getting the family back together. Marks and Spencer has an excellent English sparkling wine (£20) sourced from Chapel Down. Tasted this week it is full of the scents of spring and has lively, citrussy fruit and a sunny, flavoursome finish.