A Spin on Tradition: St. Patrick’s Day Wine & Food Pairings

March 17, 2021

A Spin on Tradition: St. Patrick’s Day Wine & Food Pairings

By: Nan McCreary

When we think of St. Patrick’s Day our minds usually conjure up images of beer, specifically green beer.  But what if you’re a wine lover and prefer to celebrate the day with fermented grape juice? Fear not. While Ireland is too far north for ripening grapes, there are plenty of other countries that offer wines with a “hint of green,” that make perfect pairings for your traditional Irish meal, whether it’s corned beef and cabbage or fish and chips.

So while your friends are enjoying their green beer, you may want to consider a Pinot Grigio, Albarino, Chenin Blanc, Muscadet wine or a Vino Verde (called “green wine” in Portugal). While these wines aren’t the color of shamrocks — that would be an affront to wine purists — they can have yellow-green hues that indicate youth and freshness.  All are light-bodied wines that can be enjoyed young and ice-cold. 

Now, if you want flavors of green in your wine, try a Sauvignon Blanc, with herbal and vegetal aromas — think green peppers, asparagus and jalapeños — that come from organic compounds called pyrazines. Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère can also exhibit notes of pyrazines. Grüner Veltliner, a dry white wine from Austria, is straw yellow with hints of green and has flavors of green beans and lime zest.  The wine, which translates to “green wine of Veltin,” often comes in dark green bottles and has been described as an exotic alternative to Sauvignon Blanc. 

If you insist on going full out with the green theme, you can always try a wine cocktail.  A green Wine Spritzer, for instance, is simple and delicious.  Just mix a drop of green food coloring into a glass, then add equal parts of chilled dry white wine and chilled plain or lime-flavored seltzer and stir lightly. Voilla! Happy St. Paddy’s! An alternative is a Leprechaun Mimosa.  This is just as simple:  Mix equal parts orange juice and Champagne or sparkling wine and add a splash of Blue Curacao. Stir with a straw or spoon and look for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

If you want a wine to pair with your traditional St. Patrick’s Day dinner, look no further than your closest wine store. Irish cuisine is known for being hearty, wholesome comfort food, with Corned Beef and Cabbage being a classic favorite. You can’t go wrong with a big, fruit-forward Cabernet Sauvignon, with earth and sweet notes to complement and neutralize the saltiness of corned beef. Another good red match is a Cabernet Franc: Its high acidity and moderate tannins suit the fat in the corned beef, plus the herbal qualities make a nice counterpart to herbs and spices in the meat. For a white wine alternative, grab a crisp white like Grüner Veltliner or an aromatic Sauvignon Blanc, preferably one from New Zealand. Sauvignon Blanc will also pair nicely with Irish Soda Bread, which often accompanies St. Patrick’s Day dinners. 

Irish Lamb Stew is another St. Patrick’s Day staple that you may want to consider. These types of dishes usually exhibit simple flavors, so stay away from big tannic reds. Instead, choose a rich wine that’s ripe and spicy, like a Merlot or a Côtes du Rhône Villages. Juicy red wines like a Burgundian Pinot Noir or a Tuscan Sangiovese will fare well with the fattiness of the lamb and its juices. When choosing whites, stay away from wines that are too acidic and tart, opt for something with a little more complexity and weight, such as an oak-aged Chardonnay, an Italian Arneis, a Viognier or an aromatic Grüner Veltliner.

Another favorite Irish dish is Shepherd’s Pie. Shepherd’s Pie is a filling dish made of minced lamb, sometimes beef, covered with a crust of mashed potatoes. This hearty, cold-weather dish calls for a red wine that’s savory and spicy, such as a Merlot, a Rhône-style GSM (Grenache, Syrah Mourvedre) or just a Syrah.  Wine Folly recommends a Sangiovese, the main grape of Chianti, because “It’s lively acidity, moderate tannins and savory notes will balance the richness of the spiced lamb meat.”

When talking about Irish favorites, we can’t forget Fish and Chips, the quintessential Irish/English food. You definitely want a wine with a zippy balanced acidity to accompany the fatty decadence of this classic dish. Try a dry Riesling, a Pinot Grigio, an Albarino or a Sauvignon Blanc. Some people like to bring out the bubbly when dining on a fabulous fried feast. Champagne, in fact, is the ultimate symbiosis of grease and acid. The delicate bubbles soak up the flakes and fat, and the yeasty notes pick up flavors from the batter. If you don’t want to splurge for a Champagne, you can try a Cava, Prosecco or New World Sparkler.

As you can see, the alternatives to green beer are many. If you must compromise, you can always drink your wine in a beer mug…and tie a green ribbon around the handle. Whatever you decide to drink, as the Irish say, “May you always have clean shirt, a clear conscience and enough coins in your pocket to buy a pint.”

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