28 April, 2010

Pinot and lamb.

Any one who watched Top Chef last season savored the Pigs and Pinot episode. I confess that I was in Napa the week the episode aired and somehow my car drove its way over to Healdsburg in Sonoma just to eat at Charlie Palmer's Dry Creek Kitchen, home of the annual Pigs and Pinot celebration. It was a wonderful experience, but I digress already. Pork and Pinot Noir make great plate mates as they are both medium bodied; one won't over power the other. But I often see Pinot Noir recommended with lamb dishes as well and thought I would give it a try.

The food.
On the menu was lamb burgers. I just mixed ground lamb with some garlic, chives, and bread crumbs (for a little more body although I'm not sure it was necessary) grilled them on the stove top to medium and topped with some tzatziki sauce. They were delicious and juicy.

The wine.
The wine this night was a bit of a splurge and one might say more than what was required for burgers. It was the 2004 Calera Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir. I picked this wine up for a steal at Wine Street Spirits in North Oaks, MN during their remodeling sale at 40% off. And since it's a 2004 I thought it might be perfect drinking now. It was.

Garnet in color with some amber on the rim, the Calera had amazing red fruit aromas of cherry, dried cherry, dried strawberry and even a bit of fig. You could also detect some cola and floral notes. Yet, like most pinot noirs there was a bit of earthiness there, too. These flavors were echoed on the palate as well. There's also a bit of vanilla indicating some oak. (A quick look at the tasting notes on the web site shows that it was aged on oak but only 15% of the barrels were new.) The finish was smooth as silk. (Okay, I apologize for going a bit geeky on the tasting notes here.)

Why this worked with the lamb. In part, this works because Pinot Noir is so flexible with food. It typically has great acidity and low tannins, which doesn't over power food. In the case of these lamb burgers, the lamb was very mild and had only a hint of gaminess. The hint of earth matched the hint of gaminess perfectly. The burgers weren't overly spiced but were more herbal which is a good match for a wine that's moderate in alcohol. Had the wine been heavier, say like big Zin, it would have been too much for the burgers. Instead this wine was soft with a good balance of fruit and earth.

Pinot Noir is one of my favorite wines. And now I can add Calera as one of my favorite Pinot Noir makers. The list is growing long.


  1. What a great dinner - I've never tried lamb burgers before but they sound great, especially paired with Pinot Noir (as you know, one of my favorite wines as well!).

  2. Very nice. My mother-in-law made a mean lamb patty back in the day and I never did get to try them with wine. My wife has been needling me to make something with lamb and so I shall. This straight-forward recipe should do nicely.

    I have used Pinot Noir to introduce non-red wine drinkers to red wine. It might sound like an odd choice, but younger Pinot Noir's have just enough of everything so as not to abuse the new drinker.


  3. Jason, I couldn't agree more about Pinot being a good choice for introducing non-red drinkers to red wine. I've often heard that Pinot is a white wine masquerading as a red wine. Likewise, Chardonnay is a red wine masquerading as a white wine.

  4. Those lamb burgers do sound really good & the wine pairing amazing