Choosing a Wine for Saint Patrick’s Day

It is less than one week until Saint Patrick’s Day. Now is the time to think about what libation you would like to drink to mark the occasion.

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In the Fall of 2012, I was attending an event that officially designated an area of downtown Halifax as Historic Irishtown. Since I was standing in front of the building that houses my favourite wine store, I began to wonder which wines (without the addition if green food colouring) should a sommelier student with a degree in Irish Studies drink on Saint Patrick’s Day.

Although I have heard of one winery in Ireland, the climate does not lend itself to good wine. Therefore I am exploring the world for wines that could be associated with Saint Patrick’s Day. I have selected several options and sorted them into three themes; Think Green, Irish History and Food Pairings.

“Think Green”

While studying for my Irish Studies degree, I began to observe Saint Patrick’s Day in a more refined way, avoiding the overt use of shamrocks, leprechauns and green food colouring. I am choosing a more subtle approach to incorporate green.

Green by Namewine_6916_web

My first choice is Vinho Verde. This is a Portuguese for Green Wine. Technically it means a young wine. Vinho Verde is made in a very light style, that is crisp and refreshing. It often has a little bit of spritz that gives it a very fresh character. The lower alcohol and refreshing nature would be perfect for an evening of Irish Dancing.

Green by Nature

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Sauvignon Blanc often has a hint of green in its appearance. I have chosen a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc for its grassy and herbal aromas that balance out the strong fruit character. It can seem like springtime in a glass. By Saint Patrick’s Day, a little sign of spring is never a bad thing. If you want to go a little greener, choose an organic wine.

Inspired by Irish History 

Irish has a rich and interesting history. I have used some parts of that history to make my next choices. First I am going to explore early Celtic history by choosing an Albarino from Galicia in Spain. Galicia was a Celtic Settlement north of the Douro as early as the sixth century BC. I have chosen Lolo Albarino. It has a golden straw colour with a rich aroma of peaches and other stone fruit. It is medium bodied with a crisp acidic character which would pair well with a variety of seafood and other light dishes.

langoa-2010The next part of Irish History will take me to an area well above my usual price point. Following the defeat of the Catholic King James II in 1688, many Jacobite supporters followed him to France. These emigrants were known as the Wild Geese.  Although most of these men served in various Irish regiments, some ultimately made their way into the wine trade. Some were negociants and ultimately owners of Châteaux. The influence of the Irish can still be seen in Bordeaux where Irish names can still be seen in the street names and Châteaux. Some of these include Château MacCarthy, Château Boyd-Cantenac, Château Kirwan and Château Phelan Segur.  For a more in-depth  look at the Irish in Bordeaux, you can check out this article by Tyler Coleman. Locally, I found a listing for Château Langoa Barton and Château Leoville Barton. The Barton family are descended from Thomas Barton who left Fermanagh in 1722 and then made his fortune in the wine trade in Bordeaux. Another famous Irishman in France was Richard Hennessy who served in the military before founding Hennessy Cognac.

Probably Ireland’s most important influence on history has been that of emigration. Although Irish emigration is apparent all around the world, I have chosen to feature Australian wines . One wine region of Australia even has a place name that likely relates to its Irish history. Clare Valley is a cooler climate region that is known for its Reisling. However, other grapes are also grown their successfully. I have a Shiraz from the Clare Valley that I am hoping to open this week.

L_Setanta20Cuchuluin20Shiraz03 Last year, while preparing a presentation on strategies in wine labelling, I came across a wine-making family of Irish descent, who have celebrated their culture by naming their wines after figures from Irish folklore. The Sullivan family run Setanta wines. The Shiraz label in the left depicts Cú Chulainn.  I do not know if these wines are still being made as all internet links now lead to a dead end.

Irish Food Pairing

cherisey_meursaultWhen speaking of Irish cuisine, it is important to include the lowly potato. There are many ways of preparing potatoes including  Champ, Boxty, and soup. Although usually an accompaniment, I thought it would be fun to pair a wine with Colcannon. Colcannon is a mashed potato dish that includes cabbage or kale, green onions, milk and butter. Because of the butter and creamy texture, I would choose Chardonnay. A Burgundian chardonnay with well- integrated oak would work well. If money were no object I think it would be interesting to pair a simple dish like colcannon, with an outstanding Burgundy like a Mersault.

Falernia Syrah reserva

This weekend I will be going to two St.Patrick’s Day celebrations that both include Irish stew therefore my final wine choice should pair well with lamb stew. This simple stew, often prepared with thyme would pair well with a nice peppery Syrah. I have chosen Falernia Syrah Reserva. This wine has aromas of rich dark fruit and pepper. The savouriness and good acidity should be a good match for Irish stew.

Drowning the Shamrock

If you want to be truly traditional with your Saint Patrick’s Day libations you must end your celebrations by drowning the shamrock. At the end of the evening, the shamrock that you wore is placed in a glass of whiskey and a toast is made to Saint Patrick.

On this Saint Patrick’s Day, there are many ways to celebrate Irish heritage, but please save the green food colouring for decorating a cake.

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!

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