“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.

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.


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.
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.

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.
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.”

THE MOVIE: Odd Man Out, 1947
Watch this classic film noir starring James Mason as Irish rebel, Johnny McQueen, on the run from Belfast police following a failed robbery attempt. Spoils from the hold-up were to provide McQueen’s secret Irish organization with wherewithal to continue its activities. Co-star Kathleen Ryan plays Kathleen Sullivan, who tries to find and save the wounded McQueen before the police chief with his large-scale man-hunt.

Narrowing the movie choices is difficult, so here are several other Irish film selections:

Angela’s Ashes, 2000: biographical; impoverished youth of Irish expatriate Frank McCourt

The Butcher Boy, 1997: disturbed youth from dysfunctional family gets into trouble

The Commitments, 1991: young man puts together soul band in Barrytown, North Dublin

The Crying Game, 1992: IRA volunteer seeks out former captive’s lover in London

Educating Rita, 1983: (shot in Ireland) English working class woman seeks private tutelage

The General, 1998: Irish folk hero/gangster is threatened by IRA’s interest in his activities

In the Name of the Father, 1994: Belfast youth fights to clear father’s name in pub bombings

Michael Collins, 1996: life and career of Irish revolutionary leader, Michael Collins

The Quiet Man
, 1952: man returns to Irish birthplace and falls for fiery-tempered redhead

Riverdance, (Lord of the Dance) 1997: filmed stage performance – Michael Flatley and his group of dancers

Ryan’s Daughter, 1970: young woman in passionless marriage begins affair with soldier

Song O’ My Heart
, 1929: Irish tenor loves stranded wife who loves fortune seeker

Irish eateries are somewhat plentiful around the Bay Area, but finding those that serve all three of our key dishes AND provide a wine list is a challenge. The following establishments fill the bill, although none seems to carry riesling, our recommended pairing with fish and chips. BYOB!

Oysters at Murphy's Irish Pub
Oysters at Murphy's Irish Pub
1. THE RESTAURANT: Murphy’s Irish Pub
464 1ST St E
Sonoma, CA 95476
Founders Larry and Rose Murphy created an atmosphere welcoming to a local from a village in Ireland. Current proprietors Bill Pollock and Bob Smith continue the practice, both being enthusiasts of the art of the pub, and offer live music, literary events and weekly trivia events. Friday is “Local Appreciation Night”, when pints and appetizers are available for $3.50 each. Other notable menu items are Charbroiled Oysters on Half Shell with Herb & Champagne Glaze and Classic Irish Lamb Stew with Murphy’s Delicious Seasoning, Carrots & Potatoes.

The Irish Bank
The Irish Bank
2. THE RESTAURANT: The Irish Bank
10 Mark Lane
San Francisco, CA 94108
7 x 7 Magazine says, “The fish-and-chips are among the best in the city . . .”. Dine on these or the Irish Bank’s homemade macaroni and cheese for the epitome of comfort food while enjoying the collection of antiques, photographs, historical documents and other memorable items meticulously procured by the management team. The Irish Bank is situated in its own lane - perfect since you’ll want to feel you’re entering a different world. You will when you approach this whitewashed cottage quaintly decorated with brass plaques, flower baskets and a 19th century water pump.

Rosie McCann's Irish Pub
Rosie McCann's Irish Pub
3. THE RESTAURANT: Rosie McCann’s Irish Pub
355 Santana Row #1060
San Jose, CA 95128
1220 Pacific Avenue
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

In both locations, owner Mina Shamsaei promotes camaraderie and provides a place for folks to meet new friends. The mission statement is, “One hundred thousand welcomes!” Food, drink, music and dancing can be enjoyed by all who visit either location. Don’t fail to notice these items on the menu: Irish Cheese Board with Apples, Grapes, Major Grey's Mango Chutney and Francese Bread and Wild Salmon Fish & Chips (Fish & Chips made with traditional cod is also available). Excellent wine list features Simi Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay.

4. THE RESTAURANT: Beckett’s Irish Pub & Restaurant
2271 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, California 94704
Beckett’s loves the old saying, “Irish don't drink a lot, just socialize where they happen to serve drink”. Beckett’s boasts a jovial atmosphere, throwing in a bartender ready to lead the conversation at all times. Since the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the proprietors sought to respect the original building design when renovating the interior. They succeeded, splitting the dining area into a cozy country cottage on the bottom level and a bit more formal, yet charming, space on the top level. The menu contains dishes by celebrated Chef Larry Doyle (see Johnny Foley’s below). Before diving into those succulent bangers and mash, enjoy a Dungeness Crab Cake with Roasted Pepper Vinaigrette, sure to get the lips smacking.

5. THE RESTAURANT: Johnny Foley’s Irish House
243 O'Farrell Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
Principals went out of their way to create the warmth and beauty of a classic pub when designing both the interior and exterior of this charming Irish restaurant and bar. Feast on traditional Irish fare along with great accompaniments, such as Bloody Mary Oyster Shooters with Gremolata (a garlicky, lemon parsley condiment) or Mussels in Irish Whisky with Bacon, Garlic, Cream & Parsley. Wow! Several dishes are created by opening executive chef, Larry Doyle, author of Irish Pub Cooking. More than decent wine list includes winners like Edna Valley Chardonnay and Chalone Pinot Noir.


“The Irish wine market has experienced unprecedented growth in the last fifteen years . . .” according to “The Irish Wine Market: A Market Segmentation Study” published in 2009 in the International Journal of Wine Business Research.

Total wine sales more than quadrupled between 1990 and 2007, and the number of wine drinkers has doubled since 1990. Just between 2000 and 2004, wine sales increased by 56%. The Irish researchers, Sarah Geraghty and Ann M. Torres, experts in hotel management and economics, respectively, attribute this growth to improved accessibility, affordability and branding.

“According to Thomas and Pickering [Journal of Wine Research, 2003], the marketing of wine is in its infancy, relative to the long history of winemaking and wine drinking. Aggressive marketing was uncommon in the industry with vineyard operators relying on the strength of their reputation to compete in the marketplace [Hall, International Journal of Wine Marketing, 2004]. In the early 1990s, an interest in branding emerged in the industry as a method of coping with changes in distribution and the growth of wine retailing.”

Another shift in the Irish wine market is with regards to origin. Enthusiasts have shown a stronger propensity to New World wines, as opposed to Old World wines. New World is defined as wine regions outside of Europe, such as South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and California. Old World comprises wines primarily from France, Italy, Germany, and Spain – countries that have been producing wine for centuries. Up until 1990, 94% of the wine consumed in Ireland was Old World. By 2007, New World wine held a 71% market share!

Geraghty and Torres found that the orientation toward New World wines represents consumers’ changes in style, taste, brand and price preferences, among other variables. Their study does not attempt to explain what propelled the changes in preferences, but puts faces on key segments of the market to educate wine marketers of product attributes important to each group. Researchers expect that as new wine drinkers become more experienced, their taste will turn towards the complexity offered by Old World wines.

With very few vineyards existing in Ireland due to its grape-unfriendly ecosystem, consumers get their wines through importers. Most popular regions are Australia, Chile, France and South Africa. The Euromonitor International: Country Sector Briefing from February, 2008, reports that of approximately 250 importers of wine into Ireland, the top five brands are Jacob's Creek, Blossom Hill, Rosemount, E&J Gallo and Wolf Blass. These brands are all New World.

Just slightly over half of the Irish market for table wine is devoted to reds, with shiraz being the favorite, and among whites, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc are top picks. Sparkling wines were traditionally sold during the holiday season, but more recently, sales are seen year-round. Volume of sparkling wine grew 19% in 2007 over the previous year. Rosé is also enjoying tremendous growth as, especially women switch from chardonnay.

Online outlets reflect recent zeal, including a slew of Irish wine blogs: Irish Wine Contemplations, Irish Wine Course and Sour Grapes, to name a few. Subjects include wine and food experiences while traveling, wine recommendations, wine events – the same themes seen in most blogs – with the addition of wine transport, very important for a country concerned with imports.

Twitter is a quickly growing website based on posters answering the question “What are you doing?” using no more than 140 characters to get to their points. Friends and family can stay connected, even choosing to receive messages on their phones. Irish wine lovers can be found all over Twitter:

“Thinking about what to cook for dinner. Since I'm off the drink this weekend, don't have to think about matching it with wine...” (Dublin)

“sorry i missed the liberty wine tasting - any notes?” (Galway)

“Liberty Wines tasting yesterday. Classy. Loved Austrian Reds and Italian Whites! I really must be getting to like wine at last....” (Dublin)

 “Gary, I can't wait for your visit to the Heartland. BIG FAN of Wine Library TV” (Sand Hills)

“I won't go TOO crazy with the plugs but here goes anyway. Ireland's newest wine blog www.pauljkiernan.wordpress.com” (Dublin)

“Wine all gone. Cheese plate nullified. Dashing to bed so as not to scare the tidy-up fairies away.” (Dublin)

The phenomenon of an all-imports wine industry creates an interesting situation for the awarding of wine honors, as decorative titles are bestowed on merchants, not wineries or winemakers. For example, Ireland’s Sunday Business Post Annual Wine Awards includes such categories as best fine wine merchant, wine importer, wine website, wine bar and restaurant wine list.

Corned beef and cabbage, fish and chips, and bangers and mash, have been enjoyed with beer for years, and admittedly, the pairings are dead on. This St. Patrick’s Day, or any time, try one of the meals with wine for an uncommon, yet pleasurable experience.

Ireland can no longer be stereotyped with the image of the beer boozer in a bar. Increasingly, consumers are eating in, thinking about their meals and what wines will accompany them. Irish consumers’ new preferences for wine from all over the globe and changes in expectations for style, taste and price expands the wine landscape. With Ireland’s growing interest in wine, the opportunity for wine marketers is wide open.

“Wine is good” – “Twitterer” (Dublin).

Thank you to my contributors:
Dr. Marianne Mc Garry Wolf, Ph.D., Professor Agribusiness, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, CA

Sarah Geraghty, Shannon College of Hotel Management

Ann M. Torres, National University of Ireland, Galway, Cairnes Graduate School of Business and Economics

Stephanie Perry, Co-Owner, Irish Bank Bar and Restaurant



Comments? Suggestions? Questions? Write to me! editorpaula at yahoo dot com