lamb illustration on transparent background

What Grows Together, Goes Together: Lamb & Wine Pairings with City Wine Market’s Steve Wilson

Steve Wilson, co-owner of City Wine Market in Lawrence, Kansas, shares insight into the role of sheep in wine vineyard and what qualities to look for in wines to find the perfect pairing for Central Grazing lamb, including specific recommendations for recipes in our catalog!
sheep grazing at the central grazing company farm

When it comes to pairing wine with food, the right combination can elevate a meal from delightful to remarkable and memorable. Grass-fed lamb, with its versatile flavor profile, is a popular choice for special occasions and holiday dinners. But what wine should you serve alongside lamb dishes? The answer depends on the cut of lamb, how it's cooked, and individual preference. 

“Wine is a very personal thing, and we respect that,” shares Steve Wilson, co-owner and manager of City Wine Market in Lawrence, Kansas. Together with longtime friend Jamie Routledge, Steve offers the local community expert knowledge that spans decades based on their past experiences in fine dining. Steve and Jamie offer a carefully curated set of wines on their store’s shelves that are then matched to the preferences and tastes of the customer. 

Steve and Jamie have a community focus that resonates with our mission at Central Grazing. “Our local Lawrence community is interconnected on so many levels. When we opened our business, we wanted to establish connections beyond those that would occur in our store. So, we establish and maintain these links by working with other local companies and organizations that share our values.”

We are excited to share Steve’s input on the qualities to look for in wines to find the perfect pairing for Central Grazing lamb in this interview. Steve also shares insight into the role of sheep in vineyards and recommends specific wines to enjoy with recipes featured in our online catalog! Whether you're a seasoned connoisseur or just starting to explore the world of wine, Steve can help you find a pairing that will bring out the flavors of your lamb dish and make your meal one to remember.

From left to right: Steve, his two sons Alec & Ben, and his father, George, at a vineyard in the Campania wine region of Italy in 2019.

What is your general approach to finding a good wine pairing for a dish? 

My favorite guide is “things that grow together, go together.” It doesn’t work 100% of the time, some things will still clash, but it works more often than not. Why does Italian Chianti go so well with pasta with red sauce? Because they come from the same place.

Most importantly, though, finding balance is key. When pairing wine with a protein, you have to consider how much fat it has, the method of preparation (raw, steamed, poached, fried, roasted, grilled or smoked, etc.) and the types and levels of seasoning or heat spice used. 

Which wine qualities should someone look for to find a great pairing for lamb?

First, it’s unlikely that white wine would be the best pairing for a particular lamb dish. While there are a few rare exceptions, most whites lack the flavors to stand up to those of lamb. But lamb is an excellent match for red wine. 

Leaner, more delicate spring lamb wants a wine that is also lean and delicate that won’t overpower it; lighter, juicier styles like Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir and Sangiovese work well. These wines, particularly from regions like France or Italy, can have a slight earthiness, which matches well to the mild gaminess of lamb.

Leg of lamb or rack of lamb, which have a little more fat and a longer cook time, want a wine with a little more structure. Tempranillo/Rioja from Spain, Cabernet/Merlot blends from Bordeaux, light-bodied Zinfandels from Northern California and medium bodied Pinot Noir are all wonderful.

My favorite wine for lamb chops is from France’s Southern Rhône Valley. A Grenache-based Côtes du Rhône blend, with a profile of savory, roasted plum, cherry, dried herbs and pepper, does fantastic things for chops.

Please share your favorite wines to pair with a few of our favorite lamb recipes.


For this preparation, I would select a Chilean Carmenère. A French transplant, the Carmenère grape was long confused for Merlot. While similar in flavor profile and structure to Merlot, Carmenère has a subtle “green” note woven in, similar to green pepper, that would match the Salsa Verde nicely.

Escudo Rojo Carmenère Reserva, 2020, Colchagua, Chile


For this, a Chianti Classico would be great. The tannin cuts the fat, while the herbal red fruit notes elevate the tomato flavors in the ragu.

Cafaggio Chianti Classico Riserva, 2017



With a leaner, more delicate cut and a rare to mid-rare preparation, a Gamay Noir from France’s Beaujolais region would complement both the flavor and the texture of the meat. For a lighter, juicier style, select a Beaujolais from the crus of Fleurie or Brouilly. For a fuller, more tannic style, select a Beaujolais from the crus of Morgon or Moulin-à-Vent.

Annick Bachelet 'Les Charmes' Morgon, 2020, Beaujolais, France


I very much like Pinot Noir with curry. The wine brings notes of things like plum, cherry, raspberry, strawberry, black tea, and cedar. These flavors cause the aromatics, like curry, coriander and cumin to shine, while the acidity cuts the richness of the dish.

Lange ‘Classique’ Pinot Noir, 2021, Willamette Valley, Oregon

How have you seen sheep play a role in vineyards in your travels abroad? 

Growing grapes for premium wine has its challenges. To achieve quality, grapevines struggle to grow deep into the ground for water and nutrients. As with most crops, weed growth depletes valuable resources required by the vines. One of the ways to deal with this is spraying chemicals; however, aside from the potential environmental issues related to this practice, chemicals are both costly to apply and may change the chemistry of the wine. Using machinery to manage weeds is also an option, but machinery can compact the soil and may change how water drains and moves in the ground, impacting vine growth.

Sheep are very efficient at removing weed growth. They don’t compact soil and are kind enough to distribute fertilizer throughout the vineyard as they conduct their work. Often, sheep are deployed in the winter and spring to cut back the cover crops and nibble off suckers (shoots that pop up in the spring from the base of the grape vines that need to be removed). Wine regions that use sheep include northern California (particularly Mendocino), many parts of France, and New Zealand, which is even known for the quality of its lamb.

sheep grazing on midwestern grass under a blue sky, on a farm that practices ethical animal farming in lawrence, kansas