Switch Things Up: St. Patrick’s Day Wines

 


I’m part Irish, but I’m not sure how much. I’m not Catholic and my surname is decidedly English. But the family tree has branches throughout the British Isles and I sit here today with blond hair, a red beard, freckles, and the inability to get a tan. On top of that, my grandmother plays about a dozen instruments and has often gone to Ireland to study traditional music and play pickup sessions in pubs. Irish food was not a large part of my upbringing but not hard to find around Memphis, given the long history of Irish immigration in the area starting with the potato famine in the 1800s. There’s still a neighborhood downtown called the Pinch District, so named after the emaciated Irish who settled there. 
As an adult, it was a pleasure to dive into the world of Irish cuisine in cities like Chicago and Boston and to try and recreate those back home. Obviously beer is the classic pairing, but wine has played an important part in Irish history and not just for religious reasons. Because they didn’t keep getting into wars with France over the past thousand years, there have been many periods of time when Ireland was a stronger export market than England when it came to Bordeaux. 
 
While wine production in Ireland certainly exists, it’s well-nigh impossible to get your hands on Irish wine in the United States. 
 
All of this brings us around to St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, which is a celebration of the patron saint of Ireland. Originally a solemn religious holiday back in the home country, in the United States it became a way for immigrants to celebrate their heritage and bring everyone into the party. (In recent decades large cities in Ireland have had to start having parades and big parties to avoid disappointing American tourists.) These five food and wine pairings are a combination of the old and the new with a little wink of humor as to what constitutes a St. Patrick’s Day wine. 
 
Sláinte!
 
One of the interesting things about Irish heritage is that many sons and daughters of the diaspora did more in their new lands than they ever could have accomplished back home. For example, Bernardo O’Higgins was the son of an Irishman and one of the founding fathers of independent Chile. In fact, Chile’s permanent Antarctic research station since 1948 is called Base General Bernardo O'Higgins Riquelme. I picked a Chilean wine that happens to be organic, which also means—yep—that it’s green. 
 
Maipo Valley, Chile
100% Carménère
$14, 13.5% abv.
 
Classic Carménère profile with heavy green bell pepper and meaty aromas, elements of leather and coffee. This is the time to break out the good lamb chops and prepare a nice chimichurri sauce. Both lamb and Carménère have great earthy tones that will complement each other and provide a savory dining experience for those who are still experiencing cold weather in March.
 
Have you ever heard of crubeens? A lot of Irish cuisine looks more like Eastern Europe or the poorer parts of England, where there’s a traditional focus on scraps, offal, and what some would consider the leftover bits that should be thrown away. Oddly enough, pigs’ feet are a regional delicacy here in Memphis and I’ve had them on many occasions, including last Friday (though that was at a Brazilian restaurant). Crubeens preparation involves 24 hours of brining and some complicated surgery, but the end result is well worth it. And when you’re done, pop the cork on a well-chilled bottle of…
 
California
100% Moscato
10% abv.
 
Not only does this have a green-themed label, but if you’re going to be chowing down on pigs’ feet, why not enjoy a wine called Barefoot? Humor is an integral part of St. Patrick’s Day and I say it’s a good chance to break out the puns and limericks. This wine is sweeter than I normally like but will be a crowd pleaser for many. Slightly musky aroma with touches of honey and a lot of big bubbles. Fun and crisp finish. 
 
Aside from clam chowder in New England, most people don’t associate Irish food with shellfish. However, the island has a thriving industry and cuisine based around various mollusks and arthropods—I’m talking crabs, oysters, langoustines, razor clams, all kinds of good things. In modern Irish cuisine, chefs are doing a lot of cool things with these fresh local ingredients, and I hope one day to be able to sample such delights as close to the coast as possible. When it comes to shellfish, I love a nice bright wine from Austria. And that grape’s first name happens to mean “green” in German. 
 
Burgenland, Austria
100% Grüner Veltliner
11.5% abv
 
Clean and crisp at first, but smooth and rich on the finish. Light and refreshing with a very mild citrus flavor. Touches of lime peel and jasmine linger on the nose. I absolutely love this wine and I think it's a great one to keep on hand for all sorts of occasions. Despite coming from a landlocked country, it is superb with seafood. I’m going to suggest a big bowl of steamed mussels with plenty of bacon, butter, and cream. Make sure that you have plenty of nice crusty bread available for sopping up the delicious juices. Which reminds me…
 
Irish soda bread is a simple thing to make, but it takes a little finesse to keep it from being a brick that will refuse to digest for a week. I learned how to make it before moving up to yeast-based breads during my high school fascination with artisan bread making (yes, I was one of the cool kids). Personally I prefer a whole wheat soda bread for the color and texture, and there are few things more enjoyable than a wedge of soda bread with a healthy pat of Kerrygold Irish butter and a drizzle of molasses on a cold winter day. To upgrade, serve this as a side dish next to a warm bowl of colcannon, the classic combination of boiled kale and mashed potatoes. Such ingredients make me think of Germany, and that makes me think of Riesling…
 
Yakima Valley, Washington
100% Riesling
13.9% abv.
 
The owners of this Washington winery are Bijal and Sinead Shah, and they named this bottle after their daughter Kennedy. Sinead is a 777 pilot and several of their wines have names that allude to her Irish heritage. This delightful bottle shows nice notes of ripe peach alongside elements of tropical fruit on the palate. Bright acidity and a long finish provide a nice contrast to the earthy and savory character of the the soda bread and butter. 
 
This final wine pairing should be with roast beef, pork loin, or whatever great piece of meat you can afford, with a toast to our ancestors who did not have it so good. Most of the wine industry in California was built in the 1800s by immigrants from France, Italy, and Germany, taking over some of the operations originally built by the Spanish. But there were some outliers, including one James Concannon who left the Aran Islands (where he was born on St. Patrick’s Day) and who started a winery in California after the Civil War that survived Prohibition and continues to this day. Concannon still uses Irish design themes and names in the marketing of their wines, and I’m a particular fan of the Petite Sirah and PS blends. 
 
Livermore Valley, California 
13.7% abv. 
50% Petite Sirah, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah, 10% Zinfandel 
 
Great dark fruit, needs to breathe for a while. Dark, deep, concentrated and tannic. This is chomping a bunch of blackberries and then drinking some tea right afterwards. (Which I've done on many occasions. Ripping out invasive blackberries is a pain, but I'll help myself to any fruit that's ripe, and have often taken a break with unsweetened, bitter iced tea.) I think it's a great expression of Petite Sirah with some excellent supporting cast members, and pairs nicely with a beef brisket that’s been braising for hours and served with a nice side of roasted potatoes. 
 
Cheers everyone, and I hope you enjoy your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations with a nice bottle of wine for a change. 

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Comments

  • Snooth User: Norba
    1480200 15

    What a fantastic sample of sociological message !
    When you mention Brazilian restaurant related to pig feet, I immediately thank of our famous dish "feijoada" which originated in the slavehood times
    The pig remains left over by the patrons were included as a soyfeme if "meat"
    In the big black beans stew
    How very close we are from other cultures albeit big diferences

    Mar 16, 2015 at 7:06 PM


  • Snooth User: Ben Carter
    1265097 20

    Norba,

    I have a wine and Brazilian food article coming up next... Stay tuned!

    Mar 16, 2015 at 7:11 PM


  • Snooth User: Norba
    1480200 15

    Sorry some mispelled words remained our of anxiety:
    substitute of "meat" in the black beans stew

    Mar 16, 2015 at 7:14 PM


  • Snooth User: Norba
    1480200 15

    Iam tuned although slightly dizzy with all wine consumed today!
    If you can provide a harmonization for some Brazilian dishes , you will become famous

    Mar 16, 2015 at 8:01 PM


  • The pig remains left over by the patrons were included as a soyfeme if "meat"

    Mar 19, 2015 at 11:53 PM


  • Snooth User: batonlone
    1829029 29

    good

    Mar 20, 2015 at 2:45 AM


  • I have a wine and Brazilian food article coming up next... Stay tuned!

    Mar 23, 2015 at 12:48 AM


  • Thats awesome

    Mar 30, 2015 at 2:08 AM


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