Log In / Join Now

Holiday Entertaining, Rhône-Style

Impress your guests with lamb two ways and matching Rhône reds; two more tasty recipes and sweet wines round out the meal

Laurie Woolever
Posted: December 9, 2008

As you plan a sit-down meal for friends and family during the festive holiday season, consider two contrasting preparations of the same meat, in this case lamb. Braising, a long and slow cooking process, yields tender, flavorful results when applied to bone-in lamb stew, and seared rack of lamb, finished to medium rare in the oven, brings classic elegance to the holiday table.

Check out our recipe below for Roast Rack of Lamb with Sweet Potato-and-Lamb Hash, the centerpiece of a holiday menu that starts with a rich, Rhône-inspired Potato and Olive Soup, and finishes with a dessert of Quince Torte With Grapefruit Gelée and Cinnamon Cream.

If you're looking to brush up on your culinary skills before getting started, you may want to read more about braising, roasting, and the ins and outs of making soups, stocks and sauces from our "How to Cook" series.

Roast Rack of Lamb with Sweet Potato-and-Lamb Hash

• 1 4-pound lamb neck or lamb stewing meat on the bone
• 4 1/4 teaspoons salt, plus more for seasoning
• 4 tablespoons canola oil
• 8 cups lamb or beef stock
• 2 carrots, coarsely chopped
• 1 rib celery, coarsely chopped
• 1 shallot, halved
• 1 bay leaf
• 6 sprigs thyme
• 2 1 1/2-pound lamb racks
• 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, plus more for seasoning
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 cups white sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/4-inch dice
• 2 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/4-inch dice
• 2 cups red onion, cut in 1/4-inch dice
• 1/4 cup sweet bell pepper, cut in 1/4-inch dice
• 2 1/4 cups vegetable stock
• 2 tablespoons chives, finely chopped
• 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely sliced
• 4 cups sweet potato leaves or spinach

1. Rub the lamb neck with 3 teaspoons salt, and refrigerate overnight.

2. Preheat the oven to 300° F. In a large roasting pan over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons canola oil. Sear the neck on all sides until golden-brown. Add the lamb stock, carrots, celery, shallot, bay leaf and thyme, and bring to a simmer. Cover, transfer to the oven, and braise until the meat is tender, about 3 hours. Remove from pan, and pick the meat from the bone.

3. Rub the lamb racks with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of the canola oil. Sear the racks until golden-brown on all sides, and transfer to a sheet pan fitted with a wire rack. Place in a 300° F oven, and roast until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 140° F, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove, and let rest for 10 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the white sweet potatoes, sweet potatoes and onions, and cook, stirring, until the onions are translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the sweet bell pepper, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add 2 cups vegetable stock and the braised lamb neck, and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until almost all the stock has evaporated, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the chives, and season with salt and black pepper.

5. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute. Add the sweet potato leaves and remaining 1/4 cup vegetable stock, and stir until the leaves wilt. Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Divide the greens and the hash evenly among 4 plates. Place 2 two-bone portions of lamb rack on each plate. Serves 4.

As for the wines to pair with this menu, Rhône reds are a great match for the first two courses, and you'll find a list of 11 recently rated selections to pour with the soup and the main dish. To finish off the holiday meal in style, we've included a selection of sweet wines from Spain that could even serve as dessert on their own.

Happy holidays!

Rhône Reds for Holiday Entertaining

PIERRE AMADIEU Gigondas Domaine Grand Romane 2006 Score: 91 | $34
Delivers gorgeous raspberry ganache, blackberry compote and fig sauce aromas and flavors, with a vibrant, minerally spine and a long, black tea-infused finish. Drink now through 2013. 6,665 cases made. —J.M.

CLOS DU MONT-OLIVET Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2006 Score: 91 | $36
Silky, but with solid grip in the background, holding the fig, currant and blackberry fruit at bay, while roasted sage, tobacco and spice notes flitter throughout. Has a very silky, pure finish. Drink now through 2026. 4,830 cases made. —J.M.

DOMAINE DU GRAPILLON D'OR Gigondas 2006 Score: 90 | $30
Dark and juicy, with a lush, alluring, layered palate of fig sauce, bittersweet ganache, Kenya AA coffee and incense. Long, juicy finish. Grenache and Syrah. Drink now through 2013. 5,580 cases made. —J.M.

DOMAINE LA ROQUÈTE Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2006 Score: 90 | $38
Silky and fresh, with shiso leaf, raspberry and spice bread hints backed by a supple, fine-grained finish. Drink now through 2018. 7,000 cases made. —J.M.

VIGNERONS DE CARACTÈRE Vacqueyras Velours des Collines 2007 Score: 89 | $19
This has nice perfume, with black tea and incense up front, followed by enticing plum, cherry and currant fruit and a long, fine-grained, minerally finish. A very stylish Rhône red. Drink now through 2010. 67,336 cases made. —J.M.

DOMAINE DU VIEUX LAZARET Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2006 Score: 89 | $30
Juicy, with a beam of red currant and cherry fruit backed by sweet spice, roasted vanilla and red licorice notes. There's a nice juicy edge to the medium-weight finish. Drink now through 2015. 28,000 cases made. —J.M.

DOMAINE LAFOND Côtes du Rhône Roc-Epine 2007 Score: 88 | $11
Delivers a good mix of briar, spice and black cherry fruit, followed by a note of black currant on the juicy finish. Drink now. 10,830 cases made. —J.M.

CAVE DE TAIN L'HERMITAGE St.-Joseph 2006 Score: 88 | $22
Juicy, with black cherry and cassis notes layered with hints of black forest cake, briar and sweet tobacco. Fresh, open-knit finish. Drink now through 2011. 25,000 cases made.

CHÂTEAU ST.-ROCH Côtes du Rhône 2005 Score: 87 | $12
Juicy, with a nice tangy streak of raspberry and spice flavors backed by a briary edge on the tasty finish. Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. Drink now. Tasted twice, with consistent notes. 12,000 cases made. —J.M.

E. GUIGAL Côtes du Rhône 2005 Score: 87 | $15
This has nice weight, with fleshy dark plum, raspberry and licorice notes. Shows some toasty grip on the finish, but stays juicy enough. Better than previously reviewed. Drink now. 250,000 cases made. —J.M.

JEAN-LUC COLOMBO Côtes du Rhône Les Abeilles 2006 Score: 86 | $13
Fresh and light-bodied, with a floral aroma, red cherry fruit and a touch of garrigue on the finish. Drink now. 50,000 cases made. —J.M.

Dessert Wines for Holiday Entertaining

BODEGAS TORO ALBALÁ Pedro Ximénez Montilla-Moriles Don PX Gran Reserva 1979 Score: 90 | $26 / 375ml
Aromas of fresh fig and roses pick up treacle and smoke notes in this distinctive fortified wine. It's mellow, and it remains persistent through the long finish. Drink now. 5,000 cases made. —B.S.

PEDRO ROMERO Pedro Ximénez Jerez Extra Rich NV Score: 89 | $30
A straightforward style, offering dried fig, raisin and caramel flavors, with Bourbon-like hint. It packs a little heat, but also personality, with a long, burnt caramel aftertaste. Drink now. 6,000 cases made. —B.S.

BODEGAS DIOS BACO Cream Jerez NV Score: 88 | $18
Appealing. Raisin and caramel flavors mark this lightly sweet Sherry. A hint of chocolate creeps in. Finishes like rum and raisin ice cream. Drink now. 6,000 cases made. —B.S.

PEDRO ROMERO Cream Jerez Full Sweet NV Score: 88 | $10
Caramel, walnut and buttered toast notes are matched to a thick texture, with a slight bitterness adding lift. Attractive, in a straightforward manner. Drink now. 10,000 cases made. —B.S.

ASENSIO VIÑEDOS Y BODEGAS Viño de Mesa Vino Dulce Miguel Asensio 2006 Score: 88 | $27 / 375ml
Sweet yet lively, this fruity white offers orange, raisin, rose petal and caramel flavors. Not deep, but alluring. Drink now. 5,000 cases made. —T.M.

BODEGAS OSBORNE Cream Jerez Sweet Oloroso NV Score: 87 | $11
Woody, resinous aromas give way to caramel, fig and roasted walnut flavors. It has character, settling into a long, walnut and molasses aftertaste. Drink now. 18,000 cases made. —B.S.

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.