Pairings: Cabernet sauvignon alluring with lamb


It’s rare to find such a suave, pretty cabernet sauvignon like Frei Brothers 2014 Reserve Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($27), our Wine of the Week, for such a price. The wine sits alongside other fine examples of the varietal that sell at triple or quadruple the price.

The wine is decidedly grown up, which is to say it is not at all brash and it doesn’t drink like a young wine. Tannins are as smooth as silk and the balanced, restrained flavors suggest black raspberries, blueberries and cassis, with little filaments of cedar, oak and vanilla, and a hushed whisper of smoke. The finish is long and smooth, with qualities that will linger long after the bottle is empty and you are in dreamland. It is a memorable wine.

The wine, of course, goes with beef, especially rare prime rib, rare ribeye and rare tenderloin. It is excellent with halibut and lovely with earthy grains such as farro, wheat berries, bulgur and buckwheat. When it comes to vegetables, think roots, especially celery root and parsnips, perhaps puréed together as a side dish or in a soup.

Yet this wine has broader appeal than a typical cabernet of this age. The silken tannins suggest it is a fabulous match with lamb, and it is, especially a cut that is best served rare, including rib chops, rack and leg.

Today’s recipe, pulled from my archives, is a flawless match that makes the wine soar. The succulent lamb and voluptuous butter complement the tannins, the potatoes draw out the wine’s earthy qualities and fresh watercress engages the cedar-like quality.

Rack of Lamb with Potatoes, Butter and Watercress

Serves 2

1 rack of lamb (about 1¼ pounds), trimmed and frenched (see note below)

— Kosher salt

— Black pepper in a mill

4-5 medium-small new red potatoes, scrubbed

4 tablespoons olive oil

— Butter, preferably local and organic

— Maldon salt flakes

— Fresh watercress

Set the lamb on a work surface and season it all over with salt and pepper. Cover loosely with a tea towel and set aside.

Fill a medium saucepan half full with water, season generously with salt and bring to a boil over high heat.

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.

While waiting for the water to boil, cut the potatoes into small dice, about ¼- to ⅓-inch cubes. When the water boils, add the potatoes and cook for 8 minutes. Drain, rinse and spread on a baking sheet to cool.

Set a frying pan over high heat, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and when the pan is hot, add the lamb, fat side down, and sear for 2 minutes. Using tongs, pick up the rack, hold the bones vertically and sear the top meat for 2 minutes by holding it in the pan. Sear the bone side of the rack. Transfer the rack to a plate and let rest briefly. Wrap the ends of the bones in foil.

Return the rack to the pan, bone side down, and set in the middle rack of the hot oven. After 10 minutes, use an instant-read thermometer to test the temperature of the meat in the middle of the rack. For very rare meat, remove the lamb from the oven at 115 degrees; for rare, remove it at 125 degrees; for medium rare, at 130 degrees. If the meat is below the desired temperature, continue to cook for 2 to 7 minutes, depending on the degree of doneness desired.

Cover the rack loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil and let rest for 5 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the remaining olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter into a sauté pan set over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the potatoes, season with salt and pepper and sauté, turning now and then with a spatula, until the potatoes are golden all over. Remove from the heat and divide between two warmed plates.

Slice the rack into individual chops and set next to the potatoes. Top each piece of lamb with a little butter and sprinkle with just a bit of Maldon salt. Add watercress alongside and serve immediately.

Note: When a rack of lamb is frenched, the chine bone, outer fat and thin flap of meat on the outside of the rack are removed, as is the meat and fat between the bones. Many local stores sell racks that have already been frenched; if yours does not, ask if the butcher will do it for you.

Michele Anna Jordan hosts “Mouthful, Smart Talk About Food, Wine, & Farming” on Sundays from 6 to 7 p.m. on KRCB-FM. Email her at