By Terry Sweeney
“Mary had a little lamb
Its fleece was white as snow
Till Mary baked it in pan
And served it with Bordeaux!”
If I were you, I wouldn’t share that little ditty with the kiddies this Easter. ‘Cuz as much as a lamb is as cute a creature as they come, we carnivores can’t help but wanna stick one in an oven, in a stew or on a skewer. Come Easter, Christian cultures around the world traditionally celebrate it with a rack of lamb or a lamb roast that is the mouth-watering culinary centerpiece of their holiday feast. Yet since the animal most identified with Easter is the Easter bunny; why not serve rabbit? It made me wonder if all the rabbits got
together and pulled the wool over our eyes pretending they were the noble bearers of baskets full of chocolate eggs and marshmallow chicks and pointed us instead in the direction of those not-too-bright baa-baaing country bumpkins — sheep!
Whatever the case may be, roast lamb is so darn delicious and is the natural choice in many Mediterranean cuisines but especially the French culture which has a long and historic connection to sheep. Sheep actually can manage beautifully on the wild grasses found in the ancient and arid Mediterranian soils where few crops other than grapes or other livestock can survive. So grazing sheep and planting vineyards often went hand in hand. Not since peanut butter met chocolate and the Reese’s Cup was born has there been such a primo pairing like lamb (fed on the wild herbs and grasses) and the Rhone wines (wild gamey wines made from Syrah and Grenache). When it comes to lamb, Dorothy from the “Wizard of Oz” said it best: “There’s no place like Rhone!” (OK, not an exact quote.)
But unfortunately, some of these French red beauties can be expensive; many hovering not much under the $50 mark. What’s a Happy Wino to do? Well, besides sitting on the side of the freeway with a sad handpainted “Will work for wine” sign, I think a more time-saving solution might be to try what I consider the best inexpensive red Rhone I’ve found thus far …. Belleruche Cotes-du-Rhone Rouge (under $15). It’s a delicious balance of the leathery damp terroir flavors of the Syrah with the lush full mouth, fruit-forward raspberry jamminess of the Grenache. Yum. Of course, you may have a little trouble remembering the name; however if you just asked your local wine merchant for the Cotes-du-Rhone with the braille on the label, that will most assuredly narrow it down. At first I thought it was there in case you got “blind drunk” but actually the Chapoutiers — the brilliant, cutting-edge, dedicated wine family who make this wine — bought the land from the gentleman who invented braille and wanted to honor his life-changing discovery.
Speaking of a life changing discovery, I ran across this French leg of lamb recipe I cut out of Saveur magazine (Oct. 2009) with every intention I’d make it someday. It’s called “Gigot de Sept Heures” (Seven-hour leg of lamb). It’s got the shank end of a leg of lamb covered in olive oil, kosher salt and black pepper, 20 cloves of garlic, a bottle of white wine, 10 sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme, savory and five fresh or dried bay leaves. Does that sound fab or what?! Simple and straight forward, it’s seared then baked at 300 degrees for seven hours. Yes! I’m going to make it this Easter!!! This year I am thumbing my nose at the 50 yard dashing Honey Baked Ham and going for this French long distance runner instead. There’s only one problem, can you imagine how many glasses of this Belleruche Cotes-du-Rhone Rouge wine I can drink in seven hours? Lawd! I may be out cold myself by the time that damn lamb’s ready to come out. Wish me luck! Cheers!