An Exceptional Pairing: Cool Climate Syrah & Lamb Chops
I had planned a vegetarian dinner for Meatless Monday, but I realized Julie had an evening commitment. It was my chance for lamb chops (I LOVE lamb chops and Julie most emphatically does not.) This week became Lamb Chop Monday and Meatless Tuesday!
I really enjoy buying meats from local, responsibly raised sources. Star Thrower Farm raises Icelandic sheep in a natural and humane manner. They make sheep’s milk cheeses, wool, and lamb and they sell them at a variety of our Minneapolis neighborhood farmers markets.
As this was an impromptu dinner for one, I used items we had readily available at home. Lamb from Star Thrower Farms, check! How about roasted vegetables on pasta, and salad on the side? Sounds good.
After the grill warmed up, the veggies were tossed in a bit of olive oil, then went into the grill basket in order: onions, then mushrooms, finally tomatoes, rosemary, pepper. A nice topping for a side dish of pasta. This time of year it gets dark at 4:30 in Minnesota, so the lighting for the grill photos is from my headlamp(Julie would tell you I have many, many headlamps for just these boy scout type needs).
The lamb chops were thawed, coated with a bit of pepper and rosemary and they went to the grill. Different from some of the other chops I have purchased, these were over an inch thick each.
Anthill Farms is really small winery. In fact all three partners have full time jobs at bigger wineries. Here’s an article about them. Their approach is this: “We’re not looking for an extremely ripe style. We’re looking for freshness in flavor, and for acid.” They make highly aromatic wines that are natural partners for food. This Sonoma Coast Syrah is a great example of cool climate Syrah, sourced from vineyards close enough to the ocean to make ripening the grapes a difficult proposition. Making the grapevines struggle seems to be a successful beginning of a more unique, individual wine.
Here are my tasting notes from the Anthill Farms Sonoma Coast Syrah:
- Dark bluish-red, just barely opaque in the center
- Nose: At first, earthy notes, some garrique herbs, smoke, meat, and dark fruits. Later on, more of a red fruit cherry aroma becomes available. Very aromatic, and I would say feminine – lean and elegant.
- Mouth: Lean, not too tannic or heavy, just a nice tannin finish. Nice and dry and lively.
- With food the earthy side disappears and the herbs and fruit emerge, beautiful. Come back to the wine after the food, and the earthy stuff is still there (and still very nice).
The magic of this pairing comes in the way the flavors change when the lamb chops and the wine interact. The earthy side of the wine recedes to show more fruit and herbs, which is just right to offset the grill char of the rich lamb chops. Both are nice by themselves, but together they really make you notice everything going on between the two.
By the way, lamb chops as rich and thick as these only need to be one per serving. I saved the second chop for leftovers. On leftover night #2, I had an interesting observation. I noticed that the salad was nice with the lamb when the wine wasn’t there. It held a refreshing contrast of freshness and texture. However, the salad and the red wine didn’t really match, as the salad would have preferred a white wine. As a whole meal, a roasted vegetable would have made all the elements dance together. Next time, we’ll give that a try.
I’m a big fan of Anthill Farms. These young winemakers are making some really special Pinot Noirs and Syrahs. Priced between $22 and $45 per bottle, they are not inexpensive, but very reasonable for a “weekend” splurge. Unfortunately, in order to get hold of their wines, you will need to join their waiting list. I say: “sign up now!” I was on their waiting list for about 6 months before I had my first opportunity to purchase.
In Minnesota, we have a fairly limited selection of American cool climate Syrahs. I would recommend you look for wines from Bonny Doon and Qupe. Also, a Matello Syrah from Oregon or an Amavi Syrah from Washington are definitely worth trying. You can also look for Croze-Hermitage wines from France, as they also usually offer these earthy characteristics around a food friendly frame. My experience with Shiraz from Australia (the same grape) is less successful as a food wine. The wines I have tried have typically been more ripe, less acidic and seem to offer quite a bit of oak flavor. If you have a favorite, I’d be interested in hearing about it!