This post was originally published last year. Since I was lucky to have 20 readers back then, it is safe to say that most of you missed it. I hope you enjoy it as St. Patrick’s Day approaches.
I am not a big fan of the traditional Saint Patrick’s day meal of corned beef and cabbage. Boiling is not my idea of how to treat meat, I don’t care for the spice combination typically used for corned beef, and boiled cabbage is not high on my list of vegetable dishes. Other than a cajun crawfish boil, I would be hard pressed to name any dishes that benefit from an entire meal being dumped into a pot of boiling water until everything is falling apart.
That said, this will be what many people will be eating this Monday when Saint Patrick’s day is celebrated. For wine lovers this can be a very problematic dish to pair with their favorite drink. The meat is highly spiced and is too salty. Boiling cabbage can bring out some sweetness from the vegetable, but also enhances its sulfurous qualities. None of these qualities are conducive to being paired successfully with wine.
My first inclination is to suggest that the reader forgo wine altogether with this meal, and go with a good strong ale or a stout instead, but that would be the easy way out. Not that you shouldn’t take the easy way out, beer is a better match than wine in this case, but I feel obligated to actually address the issue raised by this column. But, before forging onward, if you are a beer lover, here are some great matches for this meal.
Guinness is the simplest answer. Its smooth, nutty flavors start sweet and finish bitter. Each of those notes will compliment the flavors in the dish. The taste is big enough to stand up to the spices. Smithwicks is a good choice for those who find stouts to be too heavy. It is very complex and flavorful so, unlike some other lighter colored Irish beers such as Harp or Bass, it can really hold its own when pitted against a lot of spice. This beer is a great choice to cut through the dishes saltiness. While not Irish, both McEwan’s Scotch Ale and Belhaven Wee Heavy are also good choices. Big, strong, and flavorful, these ales have notes that pair perfectly with the spices in the meat.
But, you wanted wine suggestions…
So, here they are. The varietal that I think would work best with this is Saugvinon Blanc. It has the acidity to cut through the fat and the salt. It also has a flavor profile that will work with the cabbage, similarly to the way it works with the other problem child of the vegetable world, asparagus.
Choosing a red could be more problematic, not to mention more expensive. If you have a favorite Meritage or Bordeaux you might find that it matches up, or not. A Cabernet, Chianti or Shiraz might also be worth a shot, but I think matching a red to this meal will depend more on the individual wine than any specific characteristics inherent in a variety of grape.
If you are unsure of how well your wine matches up with the food make sure and keep plenty of bread and butter on the table. I have never had a wine that wasn’t good with bread and butter. Another option is to serve Champagne as it goes with everything.
Personally, I think I’ll either cook my shepherd’s pie recipe and crack a Guinness or two and not worry about it.