Italian Wine News


Earthy-spicy Lamb Kebabs seduce Sangiovese
Lynne Char Bennett   October 29, 2003

  Lamb Kebab
  Rich Lamb Kebabs call for a full-bodied red like Sangiovese. Chronicle photo by Craig Lee

Sangiovese is Italy's most famous grape, and the medium- to full-bodied wine which is made from it features warm red fruit flavors and aromas of strawberry, red cherry and raspberry, often layered with tea, warm spice, earth, cedar and hints of tomato.

Sangiovese can be a difficult grape to grow and evenly ripen, so the quality can vary widely from vintage to vintage. In California and Italy it is sometimes blended with Cabernet Sauvignon for additional depth and tannin, or with Merlot for bright fruit character.

California is making more Sangiovese, from straightforward, smooth, easy- drinking wines to those with more tannin, acid and complexity. Whatever the style, Sangiovese is a good food wine.

The concept of regional pairings holds for Sangiovese and Italian-style dishes, with hearty tomato-based sauces laced with onion, garlic and herbs like oregano, basil or rosemary. Try a marinated, grilled pork tenderloin or lamb stew with white beans and olives. Sausage is a quick and easy pairing, as the warm spice and herb seasoning of sausage plays well to the notes of red fruit and tea in the wine.

Today's recipe for Lamb Kebabs marinates meaty, tender leg of lamb with Hispanic flavors of achiote, cumin, garlic and onion. It is then grilled on a skewer with cherry tomatoes and onions that will still be a bit crunchy. The cherry tomatoes lend a supporting role to the wine's red fruit and tomato-y character while the weight of the medium-rare lamb matches the medium to medium-full weight and body of the wine.

A Shiraz or Syrah would be a good alternate wine for this recipe.

Lamb Kebabs (Serves 4 to 6)
Achiote, a powder used in Latin cooking, is made from annatto seeds. It's a natural dye and is used for the yellow-orange color found in some cheeses, butter, margarine and smoked fish. The paste found in specialty markets that carry a large line of Hispanic products is often actually dry, pressed into a rectangular block and containing spices and other ingredients that provide flavor.


  • 2 pounds boneless leg of lamb

The Marinade

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons achiote paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 small yellow onion, finely minced
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons tomato sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh oregano (optional)

For Skewering

  • 1 yellow onion
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Olive oil for grilling (optional)
  • Kosher salt to taste


1. Remove most of the tough tendons and silver skin from the lamb, then cut the meat into 1-inch cubes.

The Marinade

  • Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the achiote paste and saute until it begins to become aromatic, then add the garlic, cumin and onion.
  • Continue to cook until onion is soft.
  • Remove the mixture from the heat to cool a bit, then add the pepper, orange juice and tomato sauce and process in a blender until smooth, then add optional herbs.

2. Put the lamb cubes in a nonreactive container and add the marinade.
3. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

To Finish

4. If you are using bamboo skewers, soak them in hot water before using so they don't burn.
5. Cut the onion into 1-inch pieces.
6. Alternate pieces of lamb, cherry tomato and a few onion pieces on skewers.
7. Brush with oil, season with salt and grill to desired doneness.

Re-published from the San Francisco Chronicle - 2003
Author: Lynne Char Bennett

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