Why do we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? Who was that guy and why is it a major beer-drinking holiday celebrated with parades and shenanigans? Why do we wear green?
Well, we can look no further than the Irish, as St. Patrick was the patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick’s Day started as purely a Christian observance holiday, then was developed into a feast holiday, and today is celebrated by Irish descendants world-wide.
St. Patrick was born into a Roman-British family in the early 400’s AD with the birth name, Maewyn. He was given his Christian name of Patrick when he entered the priesthood later in life. He was captured by Irish raiders and taken into slavery at the age of 16. After six years he was able to escape and he fled to Gaul where he joined the Church and studied to be a priest. I suppose if one was held captive by the Irish for six years, one wouldn’t be too eager to return – however in 432 Patrick returned to Ireland as a bishop and spent 30 years teaching God’s word. During that time, St. Patrick was successful in converting a large number of Irish citizens to Christianity. The Irish were certainly thankful for Patrick’s forgiveness of their sins; in return they dubbed him a saint and declared March 17th an official holiday in remembrance.
Originally St. Patrick was associated with the color blue, however over the years the transition has been to green, mainly due to the shamrock. The wearing of the shamrock is a Christian tradition. It is said that St. Patrick used the shamrock as a teaching example to explain the Holy Trinity – the father, son and Holy Spirit. Today, whether Irish or not, green is a customary color worn, along with shamrock pins, beaded necklaces and Leprechaun hats.
Starting in the 1600’s, March 17th became a day that Irish Christians could take a break from fasting during the 40 days of lent. They were allowed one day to feast and drink alcohol. Over the centuries, the day has evolved to include parades, pub events and outrageous green attire. In 1931 the first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in Dublin. Today New York City hosts one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day parades in the world. Chicago even goes so far to dye the Chicago River green.
Green Beer and Irish Stout
Green beer is a popular drink on St. Patrick’s Day, a way to truly show your spirit. Many bars and pubs offer a special green beer on their menu during the week of St. Patrick’s Day. Often just a drop or two of food coloring in a light colored lager is all you need to add to festive touch to your beverage, but beware of green teeth if you have one too many!
A good Irish stout is another widely consumed beverage on March 17th. Dublin-brewed Guinness is by far the most popular and well known choice. Guinness is a “dry Irish stout,” but other types of stouts to sample include imperial stouts, sweet milk stouts, oatmeal stouts and a close cousin to the stout, the porter. Domestic company Lagunitas out of California brews a mean Cappuccino Stout. An imperial style stout, Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout boasts 9.2% abv with dark malts, roasted barley and local coffee thrown in the mix.
If you want to really get festive, ask your friendly bartender to whip up an Irish Car Bomb. Half a pint of Guinness and a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream mixed with Jamison Irish Whisky. Simply drop the shot in the pint glass and chug. They are dangerously delicious, so make sure to pace yourself!
Pra Soave Classico 2008
As New Year’s Eve approaches, we are all perplexed as to which bubbly to celebrate with.
And with that, let’s begin with a quick ‘bubbly’ lesson. Bubbly or Sparkling wine is technically any wine with bubbles in it, while Champagne (notice the capital C) ONLY refers to sparkling wines made in the Champagne region of France.
Enough with the tangent, back to the problem at hand…picking one of these sparklers for the big day next week. The first question I ever ask anyone who is looking for wine in my store is, ‘how much do you want to spend?’ Some people are thrown off by the question, but it is a perfect jumping off point for selecting any wine. If you don’t set a spending limit per bottle you could wander around the store and hem and haw all day. With that said, I’ve compiled a list of sparkling wines that can fit any budget and still impress your host.
Prosecco is a native grape in the Veneto region of Italy used to make their sparkling wine. I like to call Prosecco the recession Champagne. Best bang for your buck by far. It delivers complexity and can be produced dry, off-dry, or sweet just like Champagne.
Bortolotti Prosecco Valdobbiadene Brut($19): Although I consider this their best, dryest prosecco, you can’t go wrong with any selection from Bortolotti.
Soligo Prosecco ($14): Great surprise, nice dry prosecco paired with the sweetness of crisp pears, sure to be a crowd pleaser!
Cava is the Spanish version of sparkling, made throughout the country but mainly Penedes region (just south of Barcelona). Cava is produced in the traditional manner with second fermentation in the bottle and can include any one of the following grape varietals: macabeo, parellada, xarel-lo, chardonnay, pinot noir, or subirat.
Marques de Gelida Brut ($17): This blend of macabeo and parellada is surprisingly crisp and clean.
I use the term sparkling to include any wine that is made in the Champagne style, but is not made in Champagne, France. For example, producers in South Africa, the United States, Austrailia, and even France (outside of Champagne) have been making wonderful sparkling wines for years. These wines are usually a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, but can also include other grapes as they are not regulated. They range from brut (dry) to demi-sec (sweet).
Graham Beck Demi-Sec ($16): Graham Beck is a producer out of South Africa who produces a brut, rose brut, blanc de blanc (100% chardonnay), and demi-sec sparkling. His demi-sec sparkling is one of the best I’ve had. With a sweetness at the front of the wine, the progression surprises you with a strong, crisp, and dry finish.
And for those of you who want to stay traditional for the holidays, check some of these great, but small production champagnes out.
Ayala Brut ($70): This champagne is strong and dry, with reduced calories. A zero-dosage champagne (less sugar than the rest of them), this brut also delivers less calories giving it the ‘diet champagne’ nickname.
Egly-Ouriet Brut Grand Cru ($73): This 100% pinot noir champagne is a grower champagne, basically meaning that the producer owns the vineyard the grapes come from as well as the production house. Many large Champagne houses buy their grapes from a negociant and therefore lose a portion of control as to how the grapes are grown. Grower Champagnes have become a new phenomonen due to their excellent quality and relatively inexpensive price.