The best wines to accompany a roast lamb dinner this Easter weekend

Whatever your style or size of family celebration during the Bank Holiday weekend, Christine Austin selects the ideal accompaniments for a traditional leg or shoulder of lamb.

Will my family gather around our table this Easter weekend for a roast dinner with Yorkshire pud? Not a chance. One lot are off to African sunshine to see elephants, lions and rhinos wander across the landscape, while the others will be making the most of the last of the snow in the mountains of Canada.

Family gatherings seem to go in phases. There are some years when the fridge is constantly full of food, and preparation is well under way several days in advance. And then there are the times when a phone message tells you they have other plans.

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So, if your family is making the effort to park their feet under your table this Easter, make the most of it. Next year you might be abandoned while they spend a week on the ski slopes.

Try a glass of port with your chocolate pudTry a glass of port with your chocolate pud
Try a glass of port with your chocolate pud

Whether they turn up or not, the only real decision this weekend is what size piece of lamb to cook. With a full complement of visitors, I love a leg of lamb from my local organic butcher. Studded with garlic and rosemary, this makes a fabulous centre-piece for the main meal of the weekend. Its delicate, sweet meat is a joy with all the usual accompaniments of roasties, Yorkshire pudding and a selection of veg. But make sure you steer clear of those flavour hazards that usually get brought out with lamb. Go easy on the redcurrant jelly and certainly don’t let mint sauce go within a mile of your plate.

A slow cooked shoulder of lamb takes all the tension out of the schedule because it happily waits another hour if guests are running late. I use a recipe that I have adapted over the years that bastes the meat in garlic, ginger, cumin and coriander seeds, with orange zest adding light top notes to the flavour.

These two styles of lamb require totally different wines.

For a straight forward leg of lamb, preferably served pink, I head to Bordeaux or Rioja, while the spicier version opens up a whole new range of flavours.

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Rioja is the classic wine to accompany lamb. Its gentle cherry and redcurrant fruit flavours, usually with a streak of oak, marry perfectly with the meat. In particular, younger styles of Rioja with the emphasis on fruit shows that this favourite region has re-invented itself.

Head to Waitrose where they are running their 25% off deal on 6-bottle purchases. This is the time to buy your favourites and tuck them away. Cune Rioja Reserva 2018 (Waitrose £14.49, down to £10.87 on their 25% off deal) is a warm, food-friendly style of Rioja with ripe damson and raspberry fruit, and a touch of cinnamon and vanilla. Alternatively, head to Morrisons where they have the absolutely delicious Contino Rioja Reserva 2018 at £22 down from £26 until Tuesday. Contino is part of the Cune company but is run like an independent château with its own 62 hectares of vines and 16th century cellars where the wine matures. This wine always delights my palate with a creamy, elegant style that is full of fruit, in an effortless, complex way. Field and Fawcett in York also has this wine at just a few pence more than Morrisons, and they offer free local delivery for orders over £25.

Claret is another classic partner for lamb and Marks and Spencer’s Classic Claret No. 34 offers outstanding flavours for money. With ripe, clear cassis fruit and enough structure to cope with the meat, without overwhelming the palate, this will happily see you through to the cheese course. Step up to Tesco Finest Saint-Emilion Grand Cru (Tesco £18) for stunning flavours of black fruits, an edge of cedar and vanilla, held together by soft, velvety tannins.

When I slow-roast a shoulder of lamb, the spices in the marinade demand a bigger wine, preferably with a hint of spice on the finish. Try Robert Oatley Semaphore McLaren Vale Shiraz 2021 (Co-op £10.50) for its dark, juicy bramble and damson fruit, laced with spice and ending with a warm, Aussie smile. I also favour Tesco’s Finest Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Tesco £21) which doesn’t come with a vintage because Tesco’s buyer decided that a blend of two vintages made a better flavour profile. This was probably a very good decision, because this wine has forest fruit flavours, a deep earthy, savoury complexity and a hit of spice on the finish.

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If any of your guests don’t like red wines, and some just don’t, then try a rosé with this spiced, meaty dish. Go for one that has a decent pink colour such as Guigal’s Côtes du Rhône 2021, made from a blend of Rhône varieties which brings raspberry and strawberry fruit to the glass with a dry, rounded style.

A large family group around the table can sometimes require a large family-sized bottle and a magnum will happily serve 12 people.

Waitrose has the elegant flavours of Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico 2019 down from £32.99 to £24.74 as part of the 25% off multibuy deal. This is seriously good Chianti with spiced black cherry fruit and truffle undertones, and it will take on the meat and those roasted root vegetables with ease. Keep a little in your glass to go with the cheese that might follow the main course. If you really want a choice of big bottles then head over to The Wright Wine Co. in Skipton where they take pride in the number of magnums (150cl), Jeroboams (300cl) and Methuselahs (600cl) on their shelves.

As a finale to the meal, a chocolate pud or cake is essential at Easter. If you have some port left over from Christmas, then now is the time to get it poured. If you don’t have any leftovers then Waitrose has the smooth, plums and blackberry flavours of Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage port 2017 at £18.99 or £14.24 on the mix six deal until Tuesday. At this price you can afford to pour it generously. If you can’t finish it off, then put the bottle next to the hob and add a splash to sauces and gravies until it has all gone.

And is that how my Easter will be? Not likely. If no-one is coming to visit me, then I going to find some sunshine too.

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