St. Patrick’s Day is tomorrow. There were plenty of St. Patty’s Day celebrations this past weekend and there will be more tomorrow. When I think of St. Patrick’s Day I think of March Madness and green beer. However, this year I am taking a different approach; a traditional Irish food and wine pairing focus.
First a little history of St. Patrick’s Day. St. Patrick was a fifth century Catholic missionary to the Irish and is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. Ironically, St. Patrick was actually from England but he was captured by pirates as a teen and taken to Ireland for many year before he escaped; eventually returned as a missionary. He is known as the “Apostle of Ireland” and was the first bishop of Ireland. Though the myth is he drove all the snakes out of Ireland there is no literal evidence to support it. However, as snakes are a common metaphor for sin and snakes were frequently utilized in pagan forms of worship, due to his missionary acts and conversion rates throughout Ireland, in a less literal form St. Patrick did drive the snakes out of Ireland. Additionally, the reason the “Luck of the Irish” is found in a clover is because St. Patrick used the clover to explain the Trinity to the Irish pagans. Traditionally, St. Patrick’s Day is a day of spiritual renewal as well as recognition of missionaries around the world; however, as with Shrove Tuesday, it has become a day of parties, parades, bag pipes, green beer and a general celebration of the Irish culture. Though the circumstances of St. Patrick’s death are historically uncertain, it is believed he died on March 17.
Through researching this article I selected what appear to be five of the most popular traditional Irish dishes and sought to find the best varietals to pair with these dishes. I hope you will consider making one or more of these dishes paired with my wine recommendations and let me know what you think. I am not the first to write a St. Patty’s Day wine and food pairing article and you may have tried other varietals you like better with any given dish so please provide some feedback.
First dish: Corned Beef and Cabbage – The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in both Dublin and New York City in 1762. Irish immigrants exploded over the following century. Irish immigrants were considered outcasts in the US along with Jews, Italian, Polish, etc. Though the Irish preferred pork in Ireland, in the US they found corned beef to a delicious and less expensive alternative. Therefore, although this dish is to Ireland as apple pie is to the US, this dish was actually created by Irish Immigrants in New York City. Corned beef is usually made from a brisket cut of beef. It is cured in either a highly seasoned brine or dry rub then braised for hours till it is fork tender. Here is a recipe for Corned Beef and Cabbage.
Wine pairing suggestion: Because this dish is often boiled it is lighter and delicate in nature; therefore you want to be careful to select a wine that does not overpower the dish. A California Pinot Noir from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley or Santa Barbara County’s Santa Rita Hills in the Santa Ynez Valley would make an excellent pairing. The fog in these two areas produces delicate Pinot Noirs that offer beautiful concentration of light fruit along with soft yet evident earthy characteristics of spice, minerals, cola and mushrooms.
Second dish: Bangers and Mash – This dish is simply sausage and mashed potatoes. It was created somewhere in the United Kingdom and is popular all over the UK. The term banger dates back to 1919 and is believed to have been coined from the sausages containing high levels of water to further food rationings during WWII causing them to occasionally “explode.” It is a simple dish of roasted sausage paired with mashed potatoes; the type of sausage used today is really up to one’s own preference. Here is a recipe for Bangers and Mash.
Wine Pairing Suggestion: This one is a little tricky to pair because the wine selected really depend on the type of sausage you chose to prepare with this dish. I prefer a spicy sausage; therefore, a wine equal in spice and boldness is required. Wines that would stand up but not overpower a spicy sausage include Spanish Tempranillo or Australian Shiraz. Both of these bold wines traditionally offer rich black and red berries with round spice notes, tobacco, coffee, damp underbrush and even toasted wood notes. Just be sure to select sausage and wine with similar boldness so they will marry well.
Third dish: Fish and Chips – This dish is largely associated with England and that is where the dish originated. The popular dish consists of battered and fried mild white fish such as cod or haddock served with wedge cut fried potatoes. It is believed this dish came to Ireland in the 1880’s when an Italian Immigrant accidently stepped off an American bound ship from Queenstown in Ireland and began selling this meal outside Dublin pubs for a food cart. Today this dish is found in restaurants all over the world. Here is a recipe for Fish and Chips.
Wine Pairing Suggestions: There are many wines that would pair well with this dish; my favorite pairing is sparkling wine (Champagne, Prosecco, Cava or a US sparkling wine). In choosing a sparkling wine be sure to select one with high acidity, fresh citrus and crisp minerality. Nothing pairs better with fried food than bubbles! If you prefer another pairing I recommend a mineral and dry Pinot Grigio from Trentino-Alto Adige Italy (high acidity, soft orchard fruit and clean minerality with a light body will allow the dish to shine) or a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (its crisp citrus, stone fruit, tropical fruit and herbal nature, along with its fresh acidity and lively body will also make a delicate yet perfect pairing to the fish and chips.)
Fourth dish: Irish Stew – Cultures have been stewing food since the beginning time. When the Celtics invaded Ireland in the seventh century they brought with them bronze cauldrons used to cook food over an open fire. Irish stew consists of any meat cooked in the cauldron along with any available root vegetables. Traditionalists believe only mutton, onion, potato and water are to be used in Irish stew. Others believe carrots, turnips and pearl barley can be added to this dish. Today it is crafted from either lamb or beef and a variety of vegetable are added. Furthermore, today it is a must that Irish stew contain Irish beer, most popular Guinness. Here is a recipe for Irish Stew.
Wine Pairing Suggestion: This is hearty meal with rich flavors of either lamb or beef, lots of fresh herbs and the deep wet tobacco leaves, coffee flavors of Guinness. I recommend pairing this dish with a bold, earthy wine. One suggestion is an Italian Barolo. Barolo, the “king of wines,” comes from Nebbiolo grapes from the Piedmonte region of Italy. It is a robust, full body, full tannins and full alcohol wine that is highly acidic and dry. It offers flavors of red fruit, floral notes and deep earth tones. In buying a Barolo make sure it has some age (5+ years) and open it a few hours before serving. A good Barolo is not inexpensive but if you buy one with age and give it ample time to open it will reward you as an excellent pairing with this stew. Another option is an Argentinian Malbec. This wine will offer rich red and black fruit, along with leather, tobacco, cassis, coffee and hints of spice and vanilla. It is a rich, full wine with round acidity and tannins. It is another wine that will pair beautifully with this delicious Irish stew.
Fifth dish: Traditional Irish Shepard’s Pie – This dish that dates back to the 18th century. It is hard to image what the Irish would have eaten before the discovery of the potato! It is believed to have been created by a peasant woman who layered left overs into one dish to re-heat and serve to her family. This dish is also called “Cottage Pie.” It consists of minced meat and simple vegetables topped with mashed potatoes. Here is a recipe for Traditional Irish Shepard’s Pie.
Wine Pairing Suggestion: This is another fairly hearty dish that can be made with beef, lamb or even turkey for a non-traditional, leaner variation. Created in its traditional form this dish would also pair well with a hearty, full body, earthy wine. Two recommendations are California Zinfandel (Red Zinfandel to be precise) and Chilean Carmenere. Red Zinfandel offers medium body, acidity and tannins with flavors of red, black and blue fruit, along with rich spices, tobacco, nutmeg and mocha. California produces excellent Zinfandels, especially in Lodi. Carmenere is Chile’s signature grape. It is characteristic of rich red and black berries, spice, wet tobacco leaves, smoke and a hint of bell pepper. It is a rich and elegant wine with round acidity and tannins, full body, lingering finish; a perfect pairing for Traditional Irish Shepard’s Pie.
One fun St. Patty’s Day story to share with you: Many years ago I went with a group of friends to the Dallas St. Patrick’s Day parade and after we hung out at a few Irish Bars on Lower Greenville Avenue. While at the Dubliner a group of Irish rugby players were there partying and drinking hard. While one of the guys in our group was in the bathroom he said two of the Irish rugby players, who were quite drunk, rushed into the bathroom, violently threw-up, then headed straight to the bar for another round of Guinness pints!
My Song Selection: We all know the Irish know how to drink, and since St. Patrick’s Day is often more observed with over-indulgence than with spiritual reflection I thought a song expressing that aspect of the Irish culture was appropriate. Please enjoy Seven Drunken Nights by The Dubliners.
Which one of these traditional Irish dishes will you make to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and what wine will you pair with it? Cheers!