Lamb has always been one of our favourites here at Almondsbury Towers and last week I decided to rekindle that flame by cooking lamb shanks. Their unctuous slow cooked beauty has been absent from our dinner repertoire of late (quelle horreur!) so I felt it needed to be put hastily back on the menu and into the Aga.
As much as I love to try new things, I often go straight for the classic match with lamb: Rioja. I’m a big fan of it’s oaky charm and it’s tempting tannic magic, especially when the texture seems to go so well with slow cooked lamb. It was the delectable Olly Smith that introduced Mr O’Shea and I to the delights of reds from Rioja’s neighboring region of Ribera Del Duero. 6 years ago he and his lovely wife Sophie bought us some delicious Pesquera Tinto Reserva 2006 as our Wedding present. (There’s only one bottle left in the rack now – Now that’s restraint for you.) And increasingly I’ve been interested in other styles of Spanish red that offer an alternative to the rich wooded beauty of Rioja Reserva.
When creating the gravy for my shanks, it was the last minute addition of cranberry sauce (there was no red current jelly in the fridge) that gave the dish that hint of sweetness it needed, so it occurred to me that I needed a wine to match that had a texture and depth of flavour that I’d get from Rioja but with a bit more berry bite. Thankfully those clever wine buyers at Sainsbury’s had something up their sleeve.
In the Autumn, there were a few newcomers to their Taste the Difference range. These new faces included a delicious German Pinot Noir and a rather intriguing bottle called Graciano. The wine is from the windmill-peppered Spanish region of La Mancha (Ah memories of my much acclaimed Sancho Panza in ‘Man of La Mancha’ at the Minack Theatre in 2007!…..) Anyway, the wine is 100% Graciano and is made by Lauren Rosillo at Finca Antigua, a family owned winery with vineyards 850m above sea level – The highest in the region. One plot of the grapes is exclusive to Sainsbury’s and boasts hot sunny days and cool nights which is apparently great for grape ripening.
In the glass it’s a rich, deep-coloured purpley red wine that gives almost a savoury lavender like aroma with a hint of the berry flavour to come. On the pallet it appears quite tangy and bright to start with but then ends on a more seductive, earthy note that makes it a wonderful partner with lamb. But don’t drink this expecting Rioja Reserva. There is no creamy vanilla oak here. Just bursts of concentrated woodland blackcurrants which goes beautifully with any meaty sauce that contains hints of both savoury and sweet.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Rioja but it’s all too easy to reach for a safe bet, which makes this reasonably priced La Mancha alternative a real treat.
Taste the Difference Graciano is available in Sainsbury’s stores priced at £8.