About a decade ago, merlot was set to be the Next Big Thing: more approachable, softer tannins than the notoriously sturdy cabernet sauvignon, more elegant than that brute, shiraz. Most merlot plants in Australian vineyards, however, are a poor clone of the variety; much was planted in too-hot climates, and many producers 'over-make' it (over-cropped fruit plus too much new oak, masking varietal flavour), so the grape hasn't lived up to expectations. But there is a handful of excellent Australian merlots - most from cooler regions - with the right qualities to match this delicious lamb with currants and pinenuts: medium-bodied reds with firm but supple tannins, aromas of dried herbs and dark currants, and a fleshy, plummy red fruit texture in the mouth. - Max Allen
Seek out a well-crafted Australian merlot from cooler regions to bring out the best in this fragrant lamb dish.