Irish Food and Wine

3:55 PM AirplaneFoodCritic 0 Comments



St Patrick's Day is just around the corner. It is a time when we get to eat and drink our way through the Irish culture. Restaurants and bars serve Irish fare from a full Irish breakfast to Irish stew to the traditional American-Irish dish of corned beef and cabbage. At the restaurant or bar you will be offered the traditional pairing with these foods: Beer. If you celebrate by going to bars you will most likely come across a pint of Murphy's or Guinness, perhaps a shot of Jameson or a glass of Baileys. Admittedly, a Guinness or Harp do pair beautifully with the dishes of Ireland. Their robust, full body and bittersweet after taste lend themselves beautifully to the strong, hearty flavors of the Emerald Isle but what if you are not a beer drinker? What if you are hosting a party or serving Irish food at home? Many wine lovers simply won’t give up wine for beer even if Saint Patrick himself were at the table. Some dishes are easy to pair wine with and some are not as easy. I have compiled a small list of traditional Irish dishes and the wines that pair best with them. This article attempts to answer a question no one really seems to be able to answer: What wine should be served with corned beef and cabbage?

Let's begin with a classic entree: Irish stew. Start by breaking down the individual ingredients in the dish. Traditionally lamb is the main component of the stew. It is also the dominant element because the influences of the barley, stock and potatoes provide more subtle flavors. Even with this classic dish, recipes may vary; some may call for beef rather than lamb and some may suggest that Guinness or wine to be added. If you are making a hearty lamb stew you will need a substantial wine to go with it. A round Zinfandel with smooth tannins will go perfectly with an Irish stew. The sweetness of the stew's barley and carrots will compliment perfectly with the hints of jam and fruits in the Zinfandel and the wine's tannins and richness will match that of the strong, gamey flavor of the lamb. If the stew is made with beef, a good Cabernet would be your best choice. And, an Argentinean Malbec would nicely compliment a stew containing Guinness or a hearty wine.

Another traditional Irish dish is shepherd's pie. Shepherd's pie is a meat and potatoes kind of meal so similar principles apply to pairing this with a wine. A Zinfandel or Cabernet is going to be your best bet. This time, you may want a bit sharper, more acidic version of these wines because a shepherd's pie is thicker with the ground meat and mashed potatoes. You want a wine you can take a bigger gulp of to help wash down the food but still can stand up the flavors.

Bangers and mash is a delicious Irish meal. Named for the way the sausages have a tendency to explode when cooked, bangers are usually pork-based sausages that are juicy and full of flavor. The mashed potatoes or "mash" are served covered in a thick gravy. This wonderful winter meal goes perfectly with a Syrah or Shiraz. These wines are known for having full body with bold fruits and tannins that marry well with the flavors and textures in bangers and mash.
If you are lucky enough to be having my favorite St Patrick's Day meal, a traditional Irish breakfast, then you'll be having eggs; Irish sausages; Irish bacon (which is basically a thick slice of ham); white and black puddings; and a selection of mushrooms, beans, broiled tomatoes and boiled potatoes. No matter what time of day you have this meal, it still is a breakfast and I recommend having a light and bright Sparkling Wine or Champagne. The acidity of Champagne cuts through the fats in the eggs, butters, and meats giving you a fresh, clean palate. If you put a couple drops of green food coloring in the bottle it makes for a beautiful presentation when you pour as well
The most difficult pairing is also one of the most common meals served on St. Patrick's Day: corned beef and cabbage. If you look online to find what wine you should serve with corned beef and cabbage, you'll find a wide range of opinions and suggestions. There are suggestions that range from hearty Chiantis to sweet Roses. Why are there so many confusing differences of opinions? The answer lies in the dish itself. People are thrown off the right track because the main ingredient is traditionally beef brisket. The thought of a juicy, red beef brisket may generate thoughts of big red wines but we must remember this is a boiled dish so the actual flavors are not dominated by the beef itself. The dominant flavors lie more with the brine, the fats and the cabbage. The brine on the corned beef gives it a tart, salt, almost tangy taste and the additional fatty flavors call for a wine with enough acid to balance the dish out. The cabbage needs some acid and some fruitiness in its wine pairing. Cabbage is a difficult vegetable to match with wine altogether because of its sweet and sulphurous qualities. Put all these ingredients together and you will find you need an white, acidic wine with fruit or even citrus characteristics. Your best choice would be an Alsatian Riesling or a German Riesling. A Riesling will provide a crisp, off-dry citrus flavor that's followed by a smooth fruity finish which goes well with the fatty and salty flavors in the corned beef and cabbage. A second choice would be a Sauvignon Blanc. This varietal is not overpowered by the cabbage, cutting through the sulfur and providing a tart, citrus taste that offers a refreshing balance to the dish.
If you or your guests insist on a red wine with the corned beef and cabbage meal, then serve a Grenache. The Grenache has a big, berry flavor mixed with a peppery finish that would marry well with the briny tastes in the corned beef. A Sonoma Pinot Noir can offer the right amount of acids to match the bold flavors of the brisket and brine.
Now you can feel confident about pleasing your wine-drinking guests, if you follow these suggestions. But remember, if all else fails, Champagne goes with everything!

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