Efficiency is sometimes adorable. Vineyards run by environmentally conscious folks sometimes use sheep to trim weeds between the rows and nibble of sucker shoots from the bottom of the vine. Baby doll sheep seem to be the beast of choice since their diminutive size and limited mouth elevation keeps them from being able to reach the grapes. Shannon Ridge in Lake County takes the lamb alliance one step further by butchering the little lawn mowers and selling the meat. It's all very circle of life, and since the lamb are fed grapes as well, so foodie focused that we had to give the lamb -- and the wine -- a try.
We selected a few racks of lamb loin chops, some for us and some for our lamb expert friend Jay Jamison. Jay's family has run Jamison Farm, a producer of premium free-range lamb for chefs (including Jean-Georges Vongerrichten, and Daniel Boulud) and individuals since 1976. He grew up amongst the lambs and is an avid eater of them. "I'd be willing to bet that I've eaten more lamb than anyone my age in the United States," he says.
For the wine we let Shannon Ridge choose. Their selection: Shannon Ridge 2009 Single Vineyard Home Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon from High Valley in Lake County . Here's what we thought.
Jay grilled the lamb with a simple recipe of salt, pepper, rosemary and a little lemon juice. We grilled them with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic. Here are our thoughts:
Jay: The chops were not quite separated, so as part of my prep work, I had to cut them apart. Not sure what benefit there is to having them packaged and kind of half sliced, like English Muffins.
SFoodie: We like the partial cut, roughly ¾ of the way through the chop, because it let us choose between roasting the rack whole or easily dividing it into chops. With a traditional rack I often struggle to make a clean straight cut with equal quantities of meat along the bone. Amateurs will benefit from the pre-cutting.
Jay: The most important taste element with lamb is a lack of gaminess. For [most] people who don't like eating lamb, it's on the basis of having had gamey lamb. Gaminess is generally a function of eating older lamb, or what I'd call mutton disguised as lamb. Gamey lamb is horrible. I'm happy to report that there was no gaminess at all in this lamb [although] I found the flavor somewhat bland.
SFoodie: We found the lamb fresh, without a hint of gaminess. The mildness makes it a perfect lamb to serve people that don't think they like lamb, but we'd agree it is somewhat bland as a consequence.
However, the most amazing thing happened when we paired the lamb with the chosen wine. An entire new set of flavors opened up. It's as if baking soda had hit vinegar and a new burst of activity was created. A fascinating parlor trick to try with foodie friends.
Rich in color, rich in flavor. Dark garnet in a glass. Dark fruit with a touch of spice in the mouth. Touch of vanilla in the nose. The rich, developed flavors prop you up with like a strong stable hand on your back. There's cassis (if you don't know it, Häagen-Daz makes it into sorbet so try some on free scoop day), mid-ripe blackberry, dark chocolate, nicely integrated acidity, a touch of pepper and baking spices, dark cherry and illusion of what pipe tobacco might taste like. It drinks North of $40, but retails for $25.
The Shannon Ridge Home Ranch Cabernet is available at Hennessey's Wine & Spirits in San Francisco. Lamb is available direct.