With social distancing restrictions in place around the world, spring holidays will likely look a little different this year. Though your Easter may be atypical, you can still preserve its celebratory spirit, and one of easiest ways to do that is through wine and food. No matter who you’re with or where you are, an occasion-worthy central ingredient like lamb will ensure the meal feels festive. The meat’s bold flavors make for memorable dishes and enticing wine pairings, as in the following reader-favorite recipes, some with just a short list of ingredients.
Below are six different takes on lamb and wines to pair with it from a range of sources, including a celebrity chef and a home cook. Opt for the experts’ picks, or browse Wine Spectator’s complementary collections of classic, outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases.
Growing up in Southern California, Michael Velardi always looked forward to spring grilling season, and with it, the charry crust, juicy interior and haunting smokiness of his mom’s lamb chops. He has since become the longtime chef of Texas’ Pappas Bros. Steakhouse trifecta, and those lamb chops have stayed on the menu at the Pappas flagship in Houston’s Galleria since its opening in 1995. Both the flagship and the Downtown Houston locations hold Wine Spectator’s Grand Award. Here, double-rib lamb chops are smothered in a perfectly proportioned mix of garlic, rosemary, olive oil and black and red pepper, then left to marinate for a few hours before hitting the grill (or cast-iron pan). It’s a timeless combination that still feels fresh. For a wine match, go with classic Syrah; Pappas sommelier Jack Mason suggested a biodynamic selection from St.-Joseph in France’s Northern Rhône. Discover why Velardi says “guests go crazy” for this dish and try the passed-down recipe for yourself.
Chef-owner Amy Brandwein of Centrolina in Washington, D.C., describes this as "a lighter refresh of your typical lamb chops" that highlights the purity of the ingredients. The chops are prepared in an Italian style known as scottadito, in which they are cut up individually, marinated and grilled. The name means “scorched fingers,” a reference to what happens when you grab a blazing-hot chop with your bare hands. (Just try to resist.) Served with roasted artichokes and a delicate honey lavender sauce, the dish is ideal for springtime. Brandwein pairs her lamb with a Barbaresco from Italy’s Piedmont region made by Cantina del Pino, and she goes with the outstanding 2011 vintage. The Nebbiolo's cherry fruit flavors soften up the meat, characteristic tobacco edges link up with the chops' char, floral hints highlight the sauce and spicy tones underscore the pepper in the marinade. Fire up the grill!
Wines pairings are typically designed around the dishes they’re meant to match. But here, chef Dustin Valette of Award of Excellence–winning Valette restaurant in Healdsburg, Calif., takes an inverted approach. He created the dish specifically for one of his favorite Sonoma Coast expressions: Benovia’s juicy, berry-driven Tilton Hill Pinot Noir, made from grapes grown on sandy loam soils in a very cool microclimate of the appellation. “It has great acid to it,” Valette says. “The structure is fantastic, and I wanted to play with [a dish] that had acid but also had depth of flavor.” The umami-rich seared lamb meat gets a bright pop of freshness from a red currant sauce prepared in the same pan. But don’t worry if you don’t have Valette’s precise wine selection on hand; another elegant California Pinot or a richer Oregon version would make a fine match too. Pull your pick and get cooking.
When it comes to spring celebrations for celebrity chef Scott Conant, the grill is what shapes the experience. Among his signature Easter dishes is this lamb (or baby goat). It’s marinated in garlic, olive oil, crushed red pepper and rosemary for a day or two, then butterflied and thrown directly on the grill with lemons and rosemary sprigs to cook on a low flame. Conant offers an indoor alternative as well, using a combination of a cast-iron pan for initial searing and an oven for evenly cooking the protein all the way through. His wine recommendation is an Italian red from Tuscany, a blend of mostly Sangiovese with a small amount of Merlot. The star chef shares his reasoning behind the pick, plus tips for perfecting his surprisingly simple Easter recipe.
At his restaurant Pasjoli in Santa Monica, Calif., chef-owner Dave Beran serves produce-driven, California-French cuisine that’s pared down and thoughtful at the same time. Adapted from the restaurant’s opening menu, this dish is inspired by France’s Southern Rhône Valley. By roasting the lamb and accompanying it with grapes and a homemade olive butter, you’ll develop a flavor profile that highlights the ripe, fruity character of Grenache blends from that wine region. Beverage director Daniel Lovig suggests a selection from the Gigondas appellation’s stellar 2016 vintage, and Wine Spectator recommends more Grenache-based, Rhône-style blends with herbal accents. Give it a go.
From our 8 & $20 feature of easy, weeknight meals, this recipe yields a holiday-worthy main dish, sauce, side and salad, using just eight ingredients, including some pantry staples, plus salt and pepper. Lemon and mint are the star players, showcased in a spin on a classic Italian gremolata—which you’ll use as a marinade and a sauce—and in a mash of another springy ingredient: peas. Both serve as a vibrant counterpoint to savory lamb chops. A quick salad of arugula and Parmesan cheese completes the meal. Seek out a medium-bodied red wine with lighter tannins and herbal elements to enhance the flavors in the food, like the author’s choice of a Valpolicella red, from Italy’s Veneto region. Recreate this satisfying seasonal feast.