Channel the luck of the Irish, even with a wine glass in hand.
Wine drinkers: It’s your lucky day.
When your pals ask, “What are your plans for Saint Paddy’s Day?” Before, your response might have been an exasperated roll of the eyes followed by a tirade of frustrations about wearing green, having to drink cheap beer and being forced to eat corned beef and cabbage (“peasant food” you call it). “Cheer up,” okay? It’s time to deal with this brew-fueled, shamrock-branded holiday like the creative, sophisticated, wine-swirling prig you love to pretend to be.
Wine drinkers are the best beer drinkers. Ask any winemaker and he’ll tell you it takes a lot of good beer to make a good wine. And because Americans like to stand in solidarity with the Irish and celebrate the death of Saint Patrick by drowning themselves in Irish beer, there’s surely room for the wine connoisseur to stick to his or her vinified guns and only drink wine on Saint Patricks’ Day.
Stop looking for four-leafed clovers and start popping corks.
IF YOU’RE FEELING GREEN…
Winos who have earned their advanced level 3 certificate award from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) should sport their green-and-gold-colored pin on any lapel or hat. The entire day is dedicated to drinking here in the States, so why not brag about the fact that you have a degree in booze?
If you’re not a WSET career student and you really don’t want to wear any green, that’s fine, because you’re going to drink wines from the Green Valley AVA. The Green Valley is tucked into the southwest corner of the Russian River Valley and is greatly impacted by the cooling winds of the Pacific—prime conditions for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, grapes that prefer a lengthy, slow ripening process.
Look for a Ron Rubin 2012 Pinot Noir, Green Valley, Sonoma ($25), of juicy red and blue fruit, rose petal nose, round and spicy on the palate or The Calling 2012 “Jewel Vineyard” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma ($32) with its citrus and stone fruit notes, crème brûlée flavors and unctuous mouthfeel.
IF YOU SEE A LEPRECHAUN…
Be prepared to shower him (or her) with “green” (read: “biodynamic”) Champagne. This will require you to stock up in advance and it would be worth seeking some Benoit Lahaye NV Blanc de Noirs Brut, Champagne ($61), with its bright red berry and savory character. This gem hails from vines planted in the Grand Cru village of Bouzy in Champagne, where Benoit plows and composts with Tamise, his work horse—just spray a little bit though, aiming for the mouth, then please, drink the rest while making leprechaun jokes.
IF YOU’RE GOING OUT…
Walk straight into the fire: Find the rowdiest, loudest bar on the block, the one with beer scents wafting across the street, walk in with confidence and pull up a stool. Ask for the wine list. Say “My doctor told me I drink too much beer, so I need to diversify. Bring me your best Cabernet Sauvignon and put it in a beer mug.” The bartender will be impressed. Others will glance at their beer and wonder if they’re missing out. (They are: Wine is higher in alcohol by at least 8–10 percent ABV. Well done).
IF YOU’RE STAYING HOME…
Drink Cabernet Franc out of beer mugs. Both Cab Sauvignon and Cab Franc tend to show greener notes, like bell pepper and eucalyptus, so you’ve got your green covered there as well. Look for Cosentino Winery 2012 “The Franc” Cabernet Franc ($22) from Lodi—a deep crimson colored full bodied wine of sweet spice and herbs and dark raspberry fruit. Or head back to Napa with the Sequoia Grove 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($38), a wine deep ruby in color, black and blue fruit, dusty spice, cedar, tobacco and fine-grained tannins rounding out a lengthy liquid graphite finish.
IF YOU WANT A POT O’ GOLD…
This one’s easy. If you stick to white wine all day—whites that have seen some barrel age or barrel-fermentation, so they are rich-looking with sublimely golden-hues—you’ll be able to cruise through the entire day, drinking from your (say it with your best Irish accent): “Pot O’ Gold, with m’Paddy friends!” Or keep referring to everyone as “Fumblin’ Dubliners” which after a while will absolutely get you in a fight, if that’s your prerogative.
Also look for the Alta Colina 2012 “Claudia Cuvée” Estate Marsanne from Paso Robles ($32). This wine is weighty, rich and oily, balanced with generous ripe tropical fruit and good acidity. If you can’t find it, seek out any of their whites, which will fit the bill for St. Paddy’s Day and beyond of golden sipping.
IF YOU NEED A SHOT…
There’s nothing like a beer and a bump—traditionally it’s Guinness with a shot of Irish Whiskey. So here’s the deal: Scan the wine list first and if there’s a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, order the Guinness “with a bump,” but tell the bartender that instead of the whiskey, you’d rather have a shot of something of the “Russian persuasion.” The bartender’ll think you mean vodka, but stop that bartender dead in his or her tracks. “I don’t mean vodka. I mean your Russian River Pinot Noir. The one on your by-the-glass list.” The bartender will be confused, but you’ll carry on, confident: “What are your pours, generally? Six ounces?” The bartender will nod. “Great, bring me that Guinness and six shot glasses full of that Pinot. I’m celebrating Saint Paddy’s Day!” Then wave your hands in the air, wave them like you just don’t care.
IF YOU’RE FEELING LIKE A GUINNESS…
Guinness’s muscular, stout qualities are admirable—that rich, creamy, malty, chocolatey character that warms the heart. Wine lovers know that certain wines possess the same qualities and frankly, taste just as good in a pint glass, as in a wine goblet. But goblets are cool on Saint Patrick’s Day, so break out some bottles of rich, red wine, layered with flavors of cocoa and mocha and high-toned espresso notes.
Go for a Spanish Tempranillo from Rioja or Ribera Del Duero. Or look for a rich Napa Valley Cabernet from Howell Mountain. A favorite is Bodegas Cepa 21, Ribera del Duero, Spain—layered with chocolate and coffee notes, rich and round and decadent. The 2013 vintage averages around $10-$14 a bottle.
IF YOU’RE SERVING CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE…
You either love corned beef or you’re like Scrooge on Christmas Eve, scoffing at anyone who praises it as the favorite meal of the year. Whatever the case, let’s say you order up a platter. Finding a wine to pair that won’t be overwhelmed by the pungent flavors of the corned beef and cabbage could be tough—having a few dollops of Dijon mustard would help, but won’t guarantee success. Your best bet is to look for savory wines with enough verve and tenacity to do battle with this dish. A Sherry would probably be an interesting pairing here, but pairing a popular British quaff with corned beef and cabbage, seems antagonistic. Skip over the Channel instead and head south toward France’s Rhône Valley. Look for a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, something with dark berry and real meaty and savory notes.
A good bet would be Domaine Chante Cigale 2011 Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($30), with its meaty, funky notes and bright berry character.
IF YOU’RE PLASTERED AND ABOUT TO BURST INTO SONG…
Pick up a bottle of Sinatra Family Estates 2007 Come Fly With Me Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA ($150) and It’ll break your bird before flying you to the moon. Wally’s in Beverly Hills has it—where else would you expect to get it?
IF YOU’RE READY TO END THE EVENING…
Saint Patrick used the shamrock to explain the holy trinity to pagans. Custom dictated that the shamrock be removed from the lapel or hat where it was worn, “drowned” in the last drank of the evening and downed for good luck.
So bow out this Saint Patrick’s Day as an accomplished and sophisticated drinker of only wines (and perhaps one necessary pint—but make it a stout and follow it with a “bump” of wine). Your last drink should be luscious—a celebration of your accomplishments and a silent nod to the real reason you’re forgiven for drinking all day long at least once a year: Saint Patrick, who drove the snakes from Ireland.
Treat yourself to a dessert wine from Sauternes, France, chilled and ready for its uncorking. A solid option would be a Château Doisy-Daëne, a rich, custardy, divinely lush Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend, which you can find for about $25–$35 in the half-bottle size (375mls) and in varying vintages depending on what the retailer has in stock. Drown your shamrock in that, and do your best to avoid that late night text to your boss: “Can’t see strate, prolly not cinhg in, sorry” and write it out ahead of time.
Jonathan Cristaldi was dubbed a “Wine Prophet” by Time Out New York for his unconventional creativity as host, entertainer and educator of winos while running The Noble Rot. In 2011, Cristaldi slaved away in a cellar in Napa. Today, he is legit WSET Advanced Certified, writing about wine and spirits.