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With St. Patrick’s Day on the horizon, everyone is tapping into their Irish roots. Most people opt for green beer or a stiff Irish coffee and shot of whiskey. However, it may surprise you to know the luck of the Irish also extends to wine making. Irish wine has a complex and important history in the world of wine connoisseurs. Whether you are of 100% Gaelic descent or simply Irish for a day, you can’t go wrong giving Irish wines a try.
History of Irish Wines
Ireland does in fact have a long history of wine-making and spreading knowledge of wine. 5th century Irish monks made wine. Ancient Celtic writings mention their wine-making ability as they made pilgrimages to France, Italy, and other countries, spreading their talents and knowledge.
Many wine historians now contend much of the beloved French wine expertise comes from a handful of Irish emigrants who invested and created some of the best wineries in the world. In fact, wineries in Australia, Argentina, Chile, Sonoma and Napa, Bordeaux, and Burgundy all have notable Irish roots.
Wineries with an Irish Influence
Chateau Lynch Bages, a French winery responsible for the world’s best Bordeux, was in the hands of an Irishman whose wife inherited the winery in 1749. While it is run by the French now, the influence of Thomas Lynch is still felt.
Concannon is a winery in California founded by Irish immigrant James Concannon. Also known for its Bordeaux, this winery is still run by the great-grandsons of Concannon.
Other wineries in the United States, France, and Australia were founded by Irish familes with ties to County Cork (the most popular region for today’s Irish wines) and County Cavan. Some of these include: O’Reilly’s, Abbey Vale, Leeuwin Estates, Chateau Phelan Segur, and Owen Roe to name a few.
The Ireland Wine Museum was opened in 1997 to explore the history and importance of Irish wine even further.
Types of Irish Wines
The Wine Development Board of Ireland and the European Commission now acknowledge Ireland as wine producing country worth paying attention to. Wine made in Ireland is expanding, yet two types in particular stand out as influenced purely by Irish heritage and tradition.
- Mead is a traditional Irish wine with roots dating back to medieval times. It is a honey wine made with pure honey, vine fruit, and herbs. It is medium sweet wine that was thought to enhance fertility and virility. It was known as an aphrodisiac. This reputation was so well-known that is was and still is served at weddings. The bride and groom are supposed to drink it on their wedding night. This ‘honey wine’ is where the term ‘honeymoon’ originates.
- Mead is also known as an ‘everyman’ type of wine. It was enjoyed by Irish peasants, saints, noblemen, and kings.
- The winery Bunratty Castle makes Bunratty Mead today and it is still a big seller for weddings and romance in general.
- Lusca is a traditional Irish wine made by Llewellyns Orchard. This relatively new orchard, started in 2002, has created a dry red Lusca that has notes of Burgundy and Cabernet. The name is from the Gaelic ‘Lusk’ meaning vault or cave, the town in which the winery is located.
For the American looking to get their hands on an Irish wine made here and much easier to obtain than Mead or Lusca, there is California’s Irish Family Vineyards. This vineyard makes blends sure to inspire a St. Patrick’s Day party. These blends are named Blarney Red and Kilkenny Red.
What Makes Irish Wines Stand Apart
Wines may all be created from the same types of grape, yet each batch and each region will be subtly different for a variety of reasons. The soil and slope of the vineyard influence the end product. The amount of sunshine the vines receive can make a subtle difference, as can the temperature fluctuations from day to night. The humidity, wind, and amount of rain affect the quality and tones of a wine.
France produces most of the world’s cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, and chardonnay. The wine made is France is created to be paired with food. It is not meant to be drunk alone, such as bar wines. French wine is a highly regulated industry with strict laws and practices that influence its reputation for being a high-end product with emphasis on specific regions and history.
Italy has 350 variations of grapes and produces bolder wines, such as pinot grigio and nebbiolo. The climate in Italy makes the southern region a popular source for mass production and experimentation with various blends. This is why you can get your hands on very expensive or rare Italian wine and also cheap and common types of Italian wine.
Ireland is known for the damp, lush, and colder climate compared to Italy and France (the world’s greatest producer of wine). While some countries may dabble in hundreds of types of grapes, the variety is limited in Ireland because of these weather conditions. This simply means Irish wine takes more work. For some wine lovers, this makes it all the more worthwhile.
Irish wine stands apart from the rest in part because despite the fact that many of the world’s most enjoyed wines can trace a bit of Irish heritage, the industry in Ireland is fairly young. There is a very limited environment in which grapes can grow, namely the southern region of County Cork and County Clare. Wine produced in Ireland is mostly red and rose. Cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes are typically used because they can withstand the unique climate.
Get Your Hands on a Bottle
For those who want something different for St. Patrick’s Day or any occasion, wines from Ireland are worth the investment.
For those who want to try other international wine options, there are a few wine clubs catering to those who want something different. The World of Wine Club by Vinesse brings reds, whites, champagne, and rare wines to your door for approximately $15 to $20 a bottle. Wine of the World Club by Wine.com is another option that delivers international and vintage wines for $19.99 to $39.99 a bottle. Both clubs offer newsletters about the wineries and what pairings of food work best with certain wines.
While you are at it, don't forget to check out a list of our Best International Wine Clubs – sure to deliver great tasting Irish, French and other international varieties straight to your door each month.