Story and photography by Manos Angelakis
A Paschal Lunch!
One of the culinary beauties of spring is the availability of baby lamb for our Easter table. Having been raised in Greece, I still consider baby lamb on-the-spit as the main ingredient for a sumptuous Easter celebratory meal. Unfortunately, living in an apartment building in Hackensack, doesn’t allow for digging a spit-roasting pit. So a leg of baby lamb (about 3 3/4 lbs.) was roasted in the oven, studded with garlic and coated with thyme and oregano, olive oil and lemon juice, salt and pepper, to be had with lemon and unpeeled garlic potatoes and a tzatziki sauce. The starter was fresh tomato rounds topped with real Greek feta from Murray’s in the village, sprinkled with fresh olive oil and a dash of oregano; the finish was Hungarian chocoMe chocolate/raspberry truffles. Greek Easter bread, from Victory Sweet Shop in Astoria completed my version of a traditional Greek Easter lunch.
The question though was what wine to have with the lamb?
I considered white wines a possibility, as retsina (usually a white wine) had always been the traditional Easter libation. Unfortunately, no one produces a decent retsina any more; not even in Greece. Yes, I agree that retsina is the best tasting turpentine one can have – but in the past 5 years it has been banned from the Greek wine-making pantheon as “niet culturnish” to quote a friend.
Therefore the consideration of red wines came to the forefront.
I like the red Italians: Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Amarone della Valpolicella, Montefalco Sagrantino, Morellino di Scansano, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, to name but a few possibilities. Unfortunately, many of these wines are on the heaver side and would overpower the delicate baby lamb - though they would be fine with an older animal that would have a heavier lamb taste. There are individual exceptions to that blanket statement, and a number of the better producers create lighter wines that, when aged, work well with the younger lamb.
When I decided to start exploring, I started with the Marchesi de Frescobaldi Castel Giocondo 2008 Brunello and from the same producer, the 2007 Mormoreto from the Castello di Nipozzano. The bright acidity of the 2008 – a difficult year for Brunellos in general - worked well with the lamb showing good balance, with ripe fruit tones of cherry and blackberry and some cigar box on the nose. The 2007 Mormoreto (a Bordeaux-styled blend) had an extra year in cellar and was from a slightly warmer vintage, but felt concentrated with a bit of tight tannins; it exhibited violets, tobacco and wild herbs on the nose. I should have kept it in cellar for a couple more years.
But the Frescobaldi family also makes a lighter wine, a Super Tuscan blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese, that is well suited to early consumption. The 2011 Tenuta Frescobaldi di Castiglioni, uses the Cabernet, the mellow Merlot, and the sour-cherry tangy acidity of the Sangiovese to create a nicely fruit-laden wine.
After tasting all three bottles with pieces of the lamb, I decided to go with the Brunello, and I finished that bottle. The Super Tuscan, Frescobaldi di Castiglioni was nice, but I felt it could use a year or so in cellar and then it would be also perfect with a young lamb. The Mormoreto, definitely needed more cellar time; then it would pair well with an older animal that had a more pronounced lamb taste.
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