I just love the gorgeous aromas that waft around my kitchen when lamb is roasting in the oven. Dotted with rosemary and garlic and served, still pink, with a tall, crusty Yorkshire pudding on the plate and just a hint of redcurrant jelly in the gravy, it is the classic dish for Easter. But don’t let mint sauce get anywhere near this delicate meat. The commercial versions are harsh and dominate the flavours on the plate and, although a homemade mint sauce is softer, there is usually a splash of vinegar which can play havoc with the wine in your glass.
Rioja is the classic wine to accompany lamb – its gentle cherry and redcurrant fruit flavours marry perfectly with the pink, juicy meat. Rioja comes in various age categories. Joven is the young version, often 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 wines are allowed to age for several years in wood which is why they are so expensive, but this ageing does allow complexity and suppleness to develop. For a special Easter gathering with lamb on the menu head for a Crianza or Reserva, to get the best balance of fruit and complexity.
I have been working my way through some Riojas recently and my top choice to accompany lamb is Rioja Reserva Imperial 2009 from CUNE (Majestic, £22, down to £17 on two-bottle multi-buy). Already mature with terracotta edges to the colour and a generous aromatic red fruits and vanilla nose, balanced by a sprinkle of spice and a gentle, long finish, it sits alongside the meat with just enough power to balance the flavours on the plate without dominating proceedings.
Also extremely good is Rioja Reserva Muga 2011 (Majestic, £19.99, down to £14.99 on two-bottle multi-buy) with slightly darker fruits, a touch more cassis and ripe, supple tannins. This comes from a family-owned winery, where they care so much about quality that they have their own cooperage. It may be this factor, or their extremely careful winemaking, but I find Muga’s wines have a silky, elegant texture that combines fabulously well with food.
Less expensive, and a little more robust in flavours, Torres Ibéricos Rioja Crianza 2012 (Waitrose, down from £10.49 to £8.39) has clear red berry fruit and sweet vanilla that goes well with the fuller flavour of a stuffed shoulder of lamb.
Claret is another top choice when it comes to lamb and Majestic scores well again with Ch. Fourcas-Dupré 2006, Listrac Médoc (£12.99). This is a cedary, savoury, cassis-rich wine that is perfect for drinking right now, although if you buy a couple of bottles it won’t come to any harm in the next year or so. Trade up to Ch. Caronne Ste-Gemme 2009, Haut-Médoc (£14.99) for its supple, ripe tannins, its bright, juicy red fruits and just an edge of spice.
But lamb doesn’t suit everyone at Easter and if there is just a small gathering around your table this year, duck is a flavourful experience. This is quite a fatty meat, so allow plenty of room in the pan for it to run off and part way through cooking, scoop some of it out for roasting potatoes. Then choose a wine that can cut through the richness of all those flavours and Pinot Noir is my top choice. Head to Waitrose where they have Escarpment The Edge Pinot Noir 2013, from New Zealand, down from £14.99 to £11.24. Made by Larry McKenna, who has visited Yorkshire on several occasions, it has that touch of complexity and rounded structure that is sometimes missing in lesser Pinots.
I also enjoy Pure South Tasmanian Pinot Noir 2013, Australia, (Marks & Spencer £14) for its pure, delicate, strawberry and red cherry fruit, with a perfect balance of freshness and perfume. Tasmania is the new cool-spot for Pinot Noir and this one comes from Josef Chromy, one of the best wineries on the island.
As an alternative to New World Pinot, head to Majestic and Côtes de Nuits-Villages 2011 from Nicolas Potel (£14.99). This has subtle, savoury fruit with blackberry and liquorice notes and clean, cutting freshness.
For larger gatherings, particularly if you have several generations heading to you for lunch, a cold buffet may be the best way of feeding the hordes. For sheer impact, there is nothing to beat a whole salmon laid out on a buffet table so match it with a wine from Tesco’s excellent 25 per cent off multi-buy offer. You need to buy six bottles to qualify but there are some wines on special offer that have an extra 25 per cent off. Head for Villa Maria Private Bin Chardonnay 2013, New Zealand, for clean, fresh, citrus and peach notes to partner that salmon. Normally £10.49, it has come down to £8.49 on offer and if you buy any six bottles it limbos down to just £6.36. The crisp, crunchy flavours of Tesco Finest Sancerre 2013, France, also score a double discount. Normally £11.99, it is reduced to £9.99 until April 21, but if you buy any six bottles it comes down to a bargain £7.49.
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 some of my favourite chocolate puds over the weekend. I normally pour port alongside anything chocolatey, and Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage 2009 (£12, Waitrose until April 14) will go with anything from a cold chocolate tart to a hot chocolate pud.
And now we are officially on British Summer Time, even if the weather isn’t, perhaps it is time to pop the cork on some English sparkling wine. Nytimber Classic Cuvée is just £23.99 (normally £31.99) at Waitrose until April 14. With clean floral and citrus notes, backed by toasty brioche, this is the perfect wine to celebrate getting the family back together.