California vintners in the 1960s and ’70s made grape varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon famous. Over the last decade, or two, California has returned to its roots as red blends are making a big comeback. Blended wines range from traditional Bordeaux blends (known in California as Meritage) made using the same grape varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc) as they use in Bordeaux (France) to modern field blends. Fields blends are wines made from a combination of unique varieties. Apothic is an example. Historically, field blends would have been a blend of whatever happened to be growing in the vineyard, but now the grape selection is a lot more calculated.
In terms of Bordeaux blends, the California Meritage style can be a little more opulent and fruit forward compared to its Bordeaux equivalents. The rationale for blending is similar on both sides of the Atlantic. Each grape contributes its own complementary personality to the final product, making the wine more complete. In the case of Bordeaux blends, Cabernet Sauvignon adds depth and structure, Cabernet Franc a little perfume and approachability, and Merlot plump richness and volume.
While Old World and New World Bordeaux blends share an similar ethos and rationale, there are differences. New World versions, such as those made in California and Australia tend to be more fruit forward, with riper blackberry fruit flavours, often possessing some American oak tones (vanilla, coconut) and riper, rounder tannins in the finish. Bordeaux versions are a little more savoury in style with blackcurrant, plum, mineral, cedar and tobacco notes on vying for your nose’s attention. The wines of Bordeaux tend to also be quite dry, especially the more premium versions.
In terms of the dinner table, New World Bordeaux blends do well with grilled red meats including grilled lamb and beef. Bordeaux on the other hand pairs well with duck, roast lamb and braises. Truth be told, they can also be quite satisfying with grilled fare as well.
Roasted Pesto Crusted Lamb Rack
Serve with Amberley Cabernet Merlot
Prep time: Less than 30 minutes
Total time: Less than 1 hour
- 2 tbsp white (pearl) quinoa
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp finely chopped toasted hazelnuts, divided
- 2 racks of lamb (about 1 pound each)
- 6 tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1/2 cup basil
- 1/4 cup mint
- 1 tbsp garlic
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Directions: Rinse quinoa; drain well. Bring quinoa and water to boil in small saucepan on medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 13 minutes or until liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally. Spread cooked quinoa on baking sheet to cool. Stir in 1/4 cup of the hazelnuts. Set aside. Make a pesto by adding the basil, mint, garlic, Parmesan cheese, lemon juice and 3 tablespoons olive oil in a blender, purée until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Heat up a large frying pan with 2 tablespoons olive oil set over medium heat. Sprinkle lamb racks with salt and pepper. Sear the lamb racks until golden brown. Brush racks of lamb lightly with 1 tablespoon basil and mint pesto. Coat lamb with quinoa mixture, pressing firmly to adhere. Place lamb on roasting rack in foil-lined shallow roasting pan. Drizzle with remaining olive oil. Roast lamb in oven preheated 450°F for 20 to 25 minutes or until desired doneness. Serve with remaining basil and mint pesto.
Braised Lamb Shank
Serve with Mouton Cadet Rouge
Prep time: Less than 30 minutes
Total time: Less than 3 hours
- 1/4 cup tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 3 tbsp rosemary, chopped
- 6 lamb shanks, trimmed
- Pinch salt and pepper
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 stalks, celery diced
- 1 bottle red wine
- 1 can tomatoes
- 1 litre beef stock
Directions: Combine 3 tablespoons olive oil, Dijon mustard and rosemary in a bowl. Mix until well combined. Rub over lamb shanks. Season shanks with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining oil in a heavy bottomed large pot. Sear lamb shanks on all sides. Remove shanks from pot and set aside. Lower the heat to medium-low. Add the mirepoix (onion, carrots, celery). Sauté until the vegetables are soft. Return lamb to pot. Add wine, tomatoes and stock. Simmer over medium-low heat for 2 to 3 hours. The lamb should be tender and succulent.
Tip: Make a sauce from the braising liquid. Raise heat to high. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by half. Pass through a strainer to remove solids. Serve over lamb.
Recipes provided by Bee Choo Char, Head Chef, The Prince George Hotel
We investigate the wines of Northern Italy.
- Amberley Cabernet Merlot, Australia $19.99
- Mouton Cadet Rouge, France $18.49