Chenin Blanc with lamb? Yes, I've seen the light.

Chenin Blanc with lamb? Yes, I've seen the light.

Nik DarlingtonMarch 25, 2021

I remember the moment so clearly. It was one of the greatest mouthfuls of food I've known, so I ought to.*

The setting was Attica, in Melbourne's Ripponlea suburb and one of the World's 50 Best Restaurants since 2010. The dish was slow-roasted lamb neck. A mint & lime sauce. There were some other bits I don't recall but they were mere support acts. (The image is of another dish, honestly this transcendental experience wasn't the moment to whip the phone out.)

And the wine paired with our lamb by the sommelier was James Millton's Te Arai Chenin Blanc from Gisborne, New Zealand (this was January 2017, so I'm going to guess the vintage as 2015). It's a wine I actually knew rather well because I used to sell it. But as a slightly off-dry, demi-sec Vouvray style, and a white to boot, not a wine I'd usually associate with roast lamb.

How wrong I was. It remains singularly the most profound wine & food pairing of my life.

When you think about it though, it becomes quite obvious. Take the lamb first of all. Cooked properly, lamb is not a heavy red meat. The idea that it must always be served with red wine is plain nonsense.

A lot depends on how you serve your lamb. If it is a wintry roast dinner with a thick, dark gravy and roast potatoes, then for sure reach for a nice Rioja or suchlike (but still nothing too heavy please!).

But if it's spring lamb with a light gravy or no gravy at all, maybe a fragrant sauce with a bite of acidity like my mint & lime above, then an off-dry Chenin Blanc doesn't sound too radical. The meat doesn't overpower a white wine and the sharp but sweet mint sauce matched perfectly with Chenin's innate acidity.

Ever since, I have preached the virtues of white wine with lamb, but particularly Chenin Blanc with lamb. I've seen the light. Try it for yourself, join the revolution!

 

*Another memorable mouthful also involved lamb, in the now somewhat hackneyed 'three ways', in November 2008 at Le Quartier Français in Franschhoek, when still under the legendary stewardship of chef Margot Janse.

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