Lamb can be tricky to pair with wine, simply because it is such an assertive, boldly-flavored meat. Common wisdom suggests that red wines tend to make better matches than white wines. However, not all red wines are created equal, and it may take opening a few different bottles to find one that you really like in the context of lamb.
Don’t Go Overboard with Oak
Overly-oaky wines will only have their oak notes exacerbated by being paired with a lamb dish. It is therefore a good idea to either taste some wines before serving them with your intended lamb dish, or else read reviews to learn more about any wines you are considering. Stay away from any wines that are described as tasting largely of oak.
Fruit is Favorable
Although you do not, as a general rule, want an overly sweet wine to serve with your lamb, you do want one that has fruity notes throughout. This type of flavor balance will serve to complement your lamb nicely, no matter how you have prepared it.
Delicacy is Dreadful
Since lamb is such a full-bodied meat, you need a full-bodied wine to balance it out. Any wine that is best described as “delicate” should probably not be considered as something you want to pair with lamb. While such wines may be delightful on their own, or paired with other foods, they do not stand a chance against lamb. In all probability, they will be overpowered by it, and you will not taste very much at all.
Lamb as Wine Enhancer
Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas of Wine Review Online performed a comparison to see what types of wines generally do well when paired with lamb. Overall, they found that lamb’s most remarkable attribute as a food paired with wine is that it tends to act as an amplifier of whatever qualities are already present in the wine. If the wine in question is balanced and full-bodied, these two writers found that it will seem even moreso when paired with lamb. Conversely, if the wine is at all off-balance, tart or astringent, it will seem even moreso when imbibed with lamb.
In general, it pays to give a lot of thought to what fruity, well-balanced red wine you choose to pair with your treasured lamb dishes. Lamb is not very forgiving of flaws in the wines it is paired with, and this must be taken into account when attempting to match it up successfully with a wine. This may mean that you will have to use research to choose a few promising wines, and then taste them to see which matches your preference. You may want to seek out shops in your area that do wine tastings, so that you only have to pay for a tasting experience, not buying multiple bottles before you are sure you are satisfied with the wines they contain.
References and ResourcesWinereviewonline.com: Wine With...Lamb Chops
The Professional Chef (Eigth Edition), The Culinary Institute of America, 2006