Braised Lamb Shanks are very wine friendly and pairs well with rich red wines such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a Northern Rhône Syrah, Amarone, Bordeaux and Shiraz. Lamb Shank has a more robust gamey flavour than lamb chops or the loin. Rich red wines help mask the gamey flavours of Lamb Shanks with notes of dark fruit flavours.
Lamb Shanks are tough and low in fat, however, when braised for hours, the tough meat becomes tender and succulent. Braises can vary, but the most common one is a combination of meat stock, garlic, onion and red wine. Furthermore, when cooked with the bone in, the bone marrow inside the lamb shank melts into the braising liquid, making for a wonderfully rich sauce. Lamb Shank can also be simmered for hours in the slow cooker or pressure-cooked in a liquid or sauce. Sautéing or pan-frying Lamb Shank is a bad idea as it will be much too tough to chew.
Hundreds of recipes exist for Lamb Shank, where it might be served over butter potatoes, fluffy rice, or on Naan bread. Greece, Italy, France and Morocco often include Lamb Shank meat in various dishes, such as rich stews or hearty sandwiches.
Lamb Shank vs Leg of Lamb
The main difference between a Leg of Lamb and a Lamb Shank is that the Lamb Shank refers to a small area above the knee of the lamb, where the meat is very sinewy. Leg of Lamb, on the other hand, has much more meat and is already quite tender. Leg of Lamb is often roasted, where Lamb Shanks require braising.
Best Wine with Lamb Shanks
Châteauneuf-du-Pape & Braised Lamb Shanks
Châteauneuf-du-Pape pairs well with Lamb Shanks as this French red wine is bold and flavourful as it complements the strong gamey flavours of lamb with its notes of herbs, meat, black pepper, licorice, and smoke. These savoury flavours also complement the bold spices often used in Lamb Shank dishes which include rosemary, mint, cloves and cinnamon. On top of those complex flavours, you also have the refreshing contrast of cooked cherry, raspberry and blackberry notes that are found in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
High in alcohol and full-bodied, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is not an inexpensive red wine. However, if you’ve been braising your Lamb Shanks for a very long period, the mysteriously dark fruit and gamey flavours of Châteauneuf-du-Pape will be incredible with your meal.
Côte Rôtie & Lamb Shanks Pairing
Northern Rhône produces the finest Syrah in the world, and examples from specific appellations are Côte Rôtie, Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, and Cornas. All of these red wines will be excellent, however for me, I feel Côte Rôtie pairs best with Lamb Shanks.
Côte Rôtie is a full-bodied red wine with medium acidity and high tannin that loves the hearty and savoury flavours of braised lamb shanks. With Côte Rôtie, expect amazing blackberry, currant, and chocolate flavours that melt into the rich Lamb Shank braising sauce. Meanwhile, Côte Rôtie offers up savoury notes of black pepper, bacon fat, charcoal smoke, earth and game that complement the strong gamey flavours of your Lamb Shanks.
Expect to pay between $40-and $400 for a bottle of Côte Rôtie, and if purchased young, expect to age it for a decade or longer before pairing it with your Lamb Shanks. If budget is an issue, seek out a Crozes-Hermitage or Saint Joseph, which can often be purchased in the $30-$100 range.
Amarone & Lamb Shanks Pairing
Rich, syrupy and dry, Amarone pairs best with Lamb Shanks as it offers many complementary and contrasting flavours. Loaded with rich flavours of bitter chocolate, cherries, raisins, leather, vanilla, mocha and smoke, Amarone is amazing with the loud and gamey flavours of Lamb Shanks. There’s also plenty of protein in the lamb to tame the high tannin in a young Amarone, softening its velvety flavours even more.
Australian Shiraz & Lamb Shanks Pairing
Australian Shiraz pairs best with Braised Lamb Shanks if you want to mask more of the gamier flavours of this strongly flavoured dish. Not everyone loves the gamey flavours of lamb, and the blackberry, dark cholate, plum, and jam notes of Shiraz help cover it up. Meanwhile, you’ll still find complementary flavours of spice, black pepper, clove, licorice, meat and eucalyptus that mesh well with any spices added to your Lamb Shank dish.
Shiraz and Syrah are the same grape but are made in different styles. The Northern Rhône Syrah I mentioned above features much more earthy, gamey and herbal flavours when compared to an Australian Shiraz. Meanwhile, an Australian Shiraz will still have hints of earth, game and herbs, however, the scales are often balanced in favour of dark and red fruit notes of blackberry, raspberry and plum.
Because Australian Shiraz focuses more on fruit than earthy flavours, it is a much bigger crowd-pleaser than French Syrah. Australia also does a far better job with their marketing, making Shiraz an easy wine to understand, identify and purchase for those new to wine. Australians also eat a lot of lamb, so you know their most popular red wine will pair with lamb shanks.
Zinfandel & Lamb Shanks Pairing
Zinfandel pairs great with Lamb Shanks served in tomato-based sauce. Tomatoes are acidic and can make a heavily tannic red wine taste like rusted aluminum. Mid-ranged priced Zinfandel, on the other hand, is not high in tannin, so it will not clash with the tomato sauce.
Zinfandel features flavours of jam, blackberry, raspberry and plum that will mask the gamey Lamb Shank flavours. Meanwhile, Zinfandel serves up complex notes of smoke, black pepper, spice, mint and herbs that complement any spices such as mint, rosemary, and pepper used in your Lamb Shank sauce.