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Perfect wines for Easter, from Tuscany to Crete | Food

Preparing the food for Easter is a considerably more relaxed experience than it is at Christmas – if only because the list of essential demands is so much shorter. The drink choices, too, are much more flexible. Chocolate eggs may slip down easily with that none-more-Christmassy drink, port, or its French kissing cousins, sweet red fortified wines from Banyuls and Maury in the Roussillon. But if you’re hosting, nobody’s expecting you to have a bottle of tawny at the ready in the same way they would if you were bringing the stilton out at Christmas. In other parts of Europe, however, where Easter even now tends to be treated more solemnly or ceremoniously, traditions at the table do seem to be a little more ingrained. In particular, it’s hard to imagine getting through holy week without at least one meal based around lamb.

This is a tradition I’ve taken, if only because lamb goes so well with so many of my favourite southern European or Mediterranean wines. The specific wine depends on which country or region has provided culinary inspiration.

Little lamb chops – chuletitas de cordero – barbecued over a wood fire? That calls for a mature rioja with tannins as tenderly melt-in-the-mouth as the meat. A Greek recipe for garlicky slow-roast shoulder of lamb with lemon, white wine, thyme, rosemary and oregano? I’d plump for a Greek xinomavro red, darkly fruited for the full flavours, but puckerishly tart and tannin-ed enough to match the acid in the sauce and cut through the fat of the meat. And for Lebanese lamb shawarma, with an aromatic, sweet and earthy cumin, coriander, and cardamom spicing, then dressed with jewelled sweet-sour pomegranate seeds? It has to be a robust, sweetly spicy, Rhône-inspired Lebanese red.

After the lamb, another southern European-inspired personal tradition: cake and a very specific sweet wine. Like many a beloved food and wine combination, this one’s the result of a happy memory, in this case of an Easter holiday in Tuscany, where fat, airy slices of colomba pasquale – the citrus peel-studded Easter equivalent of panettone – were offered at teatime with a glass of sugary nectar scented with vanilla, crystallised oranges and raisins.

Made from juice extracted from dried grapes and aged for years in wooden barrels, the wine was vin santo; even for the non-religious what could be more appropriate for holy week?

Six of the best Easter wines

easter wine

Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

Best buy:
Taste the Difference Gran Reserva Rioja
Spain 2012
£13.50, Sainsbury’s

A bit of a coup for Sainsbury’s to have CVNE, one of Rioja’s best producers, supplying their Gran Reserva – and at a very attractive price too. It’s a typically savoury, tender-textured, mellow partner for lamb, but would work well with roast pork, too.

Lyrarakis Voila Assytriko
Crete, Greece 2018
£11.99, or £9.99 as part of a mix six, majestic.co.uk

As well as spit-roast lamb, Greek Easter also usually features magiritsa, a lamb or kid offal soup seasoned with dill and topped with a mixture of eggs and lemon. To match: this scintillatingly citrus-pithy, bright and mineral dry white from Crete.

Crociani Vin Santo di Montepulciano
Tuscany, Italy 2014
£19.99, 37.5cl, Waitrose

It’s not just the name that makes this traditional Tuscan sweetie an ideal Easter wine. Made from malvasia grapes dried on straw mats, its luxurious texture and raisins and demerara flavours work so well with cakes, cheese, and milk chocolate eggs.

Domaine de Montvac Arabesque Vacqueyras
France 2016
£14.95, thewinesociety.com

For the traditional Mediterranean lamb roasted with plentiful garlic and rosemary – but also pretty good with meals based around roasted or grilled aubergine. This southern Rhône red is spicy, herby, succulent yet beautifully poised.

Niepoort Ruby Dum Port
Douro, Portugal NV
from £14.75, thewhiskyexchange.com; leaandsandeman.co.uk; cambridgewine.com

Douro wine and port master Dirk Niepoort’s entry-level port is all about the abundant bright sweet fruit flavours – all dark cherry and red plum – plus silky texture in a wine that would match beautifully with darker chocolate eggs.

Mastro Bianco
Campania, Italy 2017
(from £13.75, bbr.com; vintriloquy.com; bgwm.co.uk)

A blend of three local grape varieties, this graceful but penetrating southern Italian dry white has touches of almond and green olive with peachy fruit and mineral freshness. A match for a Good Friday fried seafood dish such as Campania’s red squid with potato.

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