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EASTER WINE

From the (late) Greenwich Citizen:

Joy is an emotion common to Christmas and Easter, but if Christmas's joy is innocent, Easter's is sober. Advent notwithstanding, Easter has more of a buildup. It is a test of faith. Ash Wednesday reminds believers of their transience, Lent disciplines them, and Good Friday plunges them into sorrow before the reaffirmation of Easter Sunday.

Easter is a test in other ways. The weather is often raw and unembracing, on the cusp between March's winter and May's tentativ fingers of warmth. And then there is Easter Dinner. By tradition, this is the Leg of the Paschal Lamb. A daunting piece, to be sure; used to fill me with dread: asymmetrical, imposing on the table, with the bone sticking out to remind me of the slaughter and the butcher's art, and even bloodier than roast beef.

The gaminess of the meat and its smoothness were also sources of doubt to my undeveloped, adventureless palate. I used to find my refuge in the accompanying lima beans: creamy, starchy in places, sugary-sweet in others, with their skins' hard textural contrast. I especially savored the caramelized ones that had been roasted more heavily in the pot.

Still, proper form required me to take at least a few bites of the rare lamb gigot, chewing endlessly before getting them down. I'm glad now that I was "encouraged" to develop faith in lamb. Lamb now fills me with joy: the "gaminess" is flavor, the jutting bone reminds me that some products of the land never will lend themselves to sterile packaging, and I recognize that lamb was my "gateway food" to many diverse foods I have enjoyed since. Yes, Easter requires faith. But with faith comes joyful reward.


Gigot d'Agneau Begin with 11⁄2 lbs. of small lima beans and a five-pound leg of lamb. Ask for the French-style flageolets at higher-end markets. Boil some water, pour it over the beans in a large bowl and let sit for an hour, or overnight. Drain them, put them in a pot and cove with water then bring to a boil. Leave at low heat for 11⁄4 hours. Salt the beans about halfway through cooking.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Break open two bulbs of garlic. Use a kitchen knife to punch as many holes in the leg of lamb as there are garlic cloves. Insert the cloves into the holes. Spread virgin olive oil over the top of the gigot, and sprinkle rosemary liberally on it. Place into the oven and let cook for 20-25 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Cook another 25 minutes. Test for doneness. Then let the gigot stay in the oven another 10-15 minutes before serving.

While the lamb is cooking, cut two medium onions finely, and open one can of whole tomatoes. Chop two more bulbs of garlic finely. Melt one ounce of butter in a pan large enough to hold the beans. Add the onions until translucent, then add the garlic. Throw in a pinch of thyme, followed by the tomatoes. Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Throw in the beans. Let simmer until is time to serve the gigot. Just before serving, cut up an ounce of butter and spread the pieces over the beans, then stir them in. With such a copious meal, a nice tossed salad and fresh fruit for dessert are ideal. They are also a hint of the Spring and Summer to come.

Pairing The classic pairing for Gigot is a well-balanced Merlot. For a very memorable, high-end Easter dinner, you may serve St. Emilion from one of the great Chateaux like Ausone, Cheval Blanc, Angelus, Canon-la-Gaffeliere or Figeac. But many affordable St. Emilions exist too. Try to avoid wines under the "Montagne St. Emilion" appellation that take advantage of the name without offering value. Still, at around $25-35, you can find a lot of very nice St. Emilion proper. The available chateaux vary from shop to shop, but in this price range, most of the wines are excellent, and you are well served to follow a trusted wine shop's advice and g with what is on offer this year.

Some really nice, balanced Merlot come from Washington state. I particularly like the Cadence Winery's Klipsun Vineyard, or the Betz Family Winery's Clos de Betz. Both are classic Bordeaux-style blends, predominating in Merlot. The retail around $50-60. On the more reasonable end, Chateau Ste-Michelle is a great value.

The world's greatest lamb aficionados are the Spanish, and Rioja and the Duero both produce excellent Tempranillos that go exceedingly well with lamb. I would stay with an "old-style" Rioja, with its warm, earthy flavors, rather than a new style one that is overly juicy. Consult with your shop specialist on this, but try to avoid the wines of the importer Jorge Ordonez, which are fine as an aperitif, but tend to pair poorly with food. The class of the field in Rioja is the wines of Lopez de Heredia. They are of surpassin quality, and aged to perfection before leaving the winery. They are not cheap, but they offer surprising value. Their introductory wines are available for $35-45 if you can find them. Usually, they are found in high-end shops only. On the lower end, just about anything from Rioja or the Ribera del Duero that is in the $15-25 range does very well, but again, ask for an earthier-style wine.

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