Saint Patrick's Day: Irish Food & Wine Pairing Suggestions

“Irish”  Cuisine Paired with Winning Wines and Festive Films

Let’s talk Ireland and wine. Ireland and wine? The phrase does not roll trippingly off the tongue. Yet after years of being a beer nation, Ireland is birthing more and more inhabitants inexplicably enamored with wine. Total wine sales more than quadrupled between 1990 and 2007. What’s going on?

And for those who don’t drink beer, or traditionalists who crave a twist, we look at Americans’ favorite Irish foods paired with wines. No obvious pairing candidates come to mind when we ponder corned beef and cabbage, fish and chips or bangers and mash. But when the homework is done and compatible partners for these popular twosomes are discovered, the results are irresistible.

Following is a description of each dish and its history plus suggested varietal matches with clear rationales. Admittedly, not each dish listed originated in Ireland, but all are loved and eaten by the Irish, whether in their homeland or by the American Irish. The point is to include well known dishes that are typically served with beer.

Irish movie pairings are thrown in for fun, covering several genres. Next, suggestions for dining out in the Bay Area, Irish style, are listed. Finally, an update on Ireland and its growing love for wine is explored.

EATING IN
1. THE DISH: Corned Beef and Cabbage

“A boiled supper.” This stereotypical Irish-American meal is characterized as such time and again in recipes and descriptions. The phrase can underwhelm the neophyte, so that he is pleasantly surprised when the aromas of the duo waft up from his plate. The salty beef married to the tender cabbage has pleased generations of Irish Americans. Irish “Americans”? Although cabbage is among Ireland’s most enduring staples, it is normally prepared with pork (similar to what Americans consider Canadian bacon) in Ireland. At the turn of the century, Irish immigrants in New York City began to substitute bacon with corned beef due to the unavailability of pork on the lower east side of Manhattan, where most of the butchers were Jewish neighbors.

THE WINE: Sonoma Pinot Noir
Pinot noir spans a broad spectrum of flavors, aromas and mouthfeel, but typically, the wine is light to medium viscosity and color with a dark fruit aroma and flavor. Pinot noir or “Burgundy” from France traditionally yields a barnyard nose, but current trends are toward delicate, fruit-forward profiles. Sonoma pinot noirs range from a dense, black cherry character, classic for Russian River Valley, to a lighter, spicier example, seen more often in Carneros. If harking from the Sonoma Coast, the pinot noir shows a compromise between the two styles, bright with acidity.

THE PAIRING PRINCIPLE:

Bold reds might overpower a dish that is more delicate, due to being boiled. If the beef were roasted, perhaps a zinfandel or syrah might work to support its resulting depth of flavor. However, most cooks boil this meal. Stephanie Perry of The Irish Bank Restaurant in San Francisco advises “. . . depending on how flavorful the corned beef is, you could go with a variety of wine choices. A pinot noir from Sonoma would do well in bringing acidity to the dish. If you wanted to go with something a little bolder, I would suggest a malbec from Argentina.” See more about the Irish Bank under Dining Out, below.

THE MOVIE: My Left Foot, 1989
Mistaken for a mentally-retarded hopeless, cerebral palsy victim Christy Brown works with his dedicated teacher, to become a celebrated painter, poet and author, using . . . his left foot. Obviously a drama, the film is peppered with humor for a well-rounded and fascinating movie experience. Adult Christy is played by the compelling Daniel Day-Lewis.

2. THE DISH: Fish ‘n Chips
This guilty pleasure consists of battered or breaded, deep-fried cod or haddock served with deep-fried potatoes, whether in the form of thick slabs, home fries or steak fries (depending on whether eaten in Ireland, Germany, England, Denmark or the U.S.). The Irish prepare the chips steak fry style (thick), and like enthusiasts in other countries, eat the meal with salt and malt vinegar. Originating in England, the dish became popular in Ireland subsequent to Italian immigration after 1945, when those without much knowledge of English would order “one of those and one of those”, pointing to the separate items on the menu. Eventually, patrons would order a “one and one”. In England and Ireland, the duo was almost exclusively carry-out fare, sold by “chippers” at stands until quite recently when it made its way into pubs and even some fine restaurants. Of course in the United States, fish and chips is a menu standard at pubs that serve English or Irish dishes – “pub grub”.

THE WINE: Australian Riesling
Riesling, whether from France, Germany or California, is aromatic and exhibits a floral, sometimes perfumy, nose balanced by high acid. Her Australian cousin, although maintaining the same acid balance, displays an oily texture and is known for its intensely concentrated citrus flavors.
 
THE PAIRING PRINCIPLE:
Australian wine correspondent Jamie Hamilton noted in a delightful podcast on Morning Magazine in 2007 that the lemony-citrusy qualities of riesling make it delicate enough to go with the delicateness of the fish. Its grapefruit character goes nicely with the texture of the “potato chip”. Building on its textural advantages, the acid in the riesling cuts through the oily richness and heaviness of the battered fish and greasy chips. The high acid gives it zest and “cleans up the mouth” yet the wine’s light body does not overpower either the fish or the chips.

THE MOVIE: The Matchmaker, 1997

American election campaigner Marcy Tizard, played by Janeane Garofalo, heads to small town Ballinagra, Ireland, to trace the roots of U.S. Senator John McGlory in hopes of attracting the Irish vote. Unfortunately, she arrives during the town’s annual matchmaking festival. The harder she tries to do serious research, the more the local matchmaker pushes to unite her with a local. The movie is funny, quirky and adorable. Not your typical romantic comedy, and full of surprises.

3. THE DISH: Bangers and Mash
A tendency to explode when cooked over high heat garnered the name “bangers” for these juicy sausages, often paired with mashed potatoes or “mash” and served with a rich onion gravy. This English/Irish dish goes centuries back due to its ease of preparation, great taste and ability to satisfy. Bangers can be made of any meat or can be vegetarian, but in Ireland they are usually made of pork.

THE WINE: Syrah
Syrah is characteristically full-bodied and muscular with a range of flavors on the palate. Blackberry and pepper are often found as descriptors, but essences cover dark berry to floral to coffee to spice. Rhône syrahs are tannic and spicy in northern areas and show weight and structure with soft fruit in southern regions. Australian syrahs are more concentrated in their fruit and although typically tannic and peppery, surprisingly well-balanced.
 
THE PAIRING PRINCIPLE:
A fruity wine, certainly a syrah, works to cool the spices found in the sausage and a slightly spicy syrah will complement the piquant banger. Again, Stephanie Perry from the Irish Bank Restaurant offers an opinion. “I would pair this with a bold red wine that has some spicy notes, perhaps a syrah or syrah blend either from the Rhône Valley or Australia. This is a pairing situation where you want similar bold flavors in both the food and the wine, so one does not overpower the other. Depending on how flavorful and seasoned this dish is, a California zinfandel might even be appropriate.”