Lamb with Bordeaux is traditional, and for good reason: the meat’s full flavor and texture needs a wine with enough tannin to balance the fat. But Cabernet Sauvignon, the chief grape of most Bordeaux wines, might be a bit much for lamb chops, compared to a leg or shoulder roast. In this case, look for a St. Emilion—it’s higher in Merlot, smoother, and lets the meat’s subtle flavors come through more readily. Château Simard and Château Puy-Blanquet are delicious and affordable.
Happily, Merlot’s popularity has brought a surge of good values from areas as diverse as southern France (try Réserve St. Martin, Les Jamelles, or Fortant de France), Chile (look to Carmen for fruitier flavors and Carta Vieja for dark, earthy ones), and Long Island (Pelligrini and Gristina are consistently fine).
Lamb also pairs famously well with Rhône reds, and the deep, pungent, spice-and-tar flavors of Châteauneuf-du-Pape tie in especially well with spice-rubbed lamb. Nicely balanced Rhône-style reds at a lower price include Ensemble by California’s Beaulieu Vineyard and d’Arry’s original, a Shiraz-Grenache combo from d’Arenberg of Australia.