Turning green

Wines for St. Patrick’s Day
By LAYNE WITHERELL  |  March 15, 2006

We are usually forced to endure either beer-specific holidays or wine-specific holidays, with no opportunity for change. But now, for one day only, St. Patty’s Day will be a wine feast.

First, boil up some cabbage. The accompanying wine is the little known and rarely seen Vinho Verde (this one is by Casal Garcia, $6). This Portuguese white is actually known as “the green wine.” It is not quite as green as the propylparaben in the green food coloring you have been pouring to make your green beer. Vinho Verde tastes like mouth-puckering nettles, but when chilled — really chilled — it takes on this cool, edgy, spritzy character. A softer form of nettles.

When you remove the cabbage, throw on a little butter (make that quite a bit). Then marvel at the unlikely flavor combination: The iced and acidic wine with the meltingly hot cabbage are true undiscovered soulmates of St. Patty’s Day. This is the starter course for our little corned beef and cabbage extravaganza — don’t forget the occasional boiled potato.

Corned beef is one of my all-time favorite dishes although I have a difficult time getting past the phosphorescent diesel-spill-on-water look that coats its exterior. Since corned beef is both salted and seasoned in brine, the fruitier the red wine, the better. Also, inviting a cardiologist friend would not be a terrible idea.

We begin by opening a bottle of Fish Eye Cabernet Sauvignon, California, 2003, $8. Where do these names come from? This stuff is perfect for corned beef as the soft fruitiness cuts right through the salted brine, and it is high enough in quality to keep your cardiologist bud from going home, though he may be nosing through your fridge.

And what, after all, is any new wine event without merlot? Or, as Milo, the Paul Giamatti character in the movie Sideways, loudly exclaimed, “If anyone orders any merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any fucking merlot.” I have been known to say that too, but in a much quieter tone. Merlot’s problem is what you could call “Bode Miller Syndrome:” it is unpredictable, and can be a total washout.

For our little event, we have just the wine. There is no better pedigree than the Concannon Central Coast Merlot, 2003, at $10. James Concannon, the clan's paterfamilias, moved the family from Ireland to the Livermore Valley in California in 1883. He was a century early for just about everything, so he made wine. His claims to fame were the petite syrah grape (which we will cover someday), the making of altar wine during Prohibition to keep the winery going, and sending a barrel of wine to the Pope every five years. Now, that is Irish.

The single best word to describe this wine is fleshy. You could put weight on just by looking at this stuff. The corned beef and the wine wash down, each inviting a bite or a sip of the other. This is a good benchmark for $10 merlot, and while drinking it you can imagine this little bottle on the gold medal stand for the giant slalom.

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