The Wines of the Irish
If your weekend isn’t filled with green beer, green clothes, and an absolute conviction that you’re Irish despite everything 23 and Me just told you, you may not be doing St. Patrick’s Day right. Even if you don’t technically hail from Éire, you can still get your shamrock on and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day like you know how to spell “Guinness.”
Beer flows aplenty during the celebration, but that doesn’t mean wine doesn’t have a unique and growing place in Irish culture. Ireland has the stamp of approval from the European Commission as an official wine producing country—a label that gives great legitimacy to a budding industry in a rather unexpected locale given that the climate and rocky soil tend to be anything but friendly to grapes.
Irish Wine, Then and Now
Historically speaking, there are mentions of wine in monastic writings dating back to the 400s.
Right now, you can count all of the major wine producing vineyards on two hands, and you can probably visit most of them over the course of a week. Californians, particularly those who deal with the 405, may enjoy that it takes just under 8 hours to get from the northern tip of Ireland to the southern tip. While comparable to a trip down the PCH (a 10-hour drive with no stops), it would take months to venture to all of California’s 3,600 or more wineries.
Nevertheless, we expect that winemaking will continue to grow in Ireland. The latter half of the 20th century brought a resurgence of vineyards in Ireland, and the industry seems to be finding it’s footing in a country that has traditionally kept it hoppy. Most of the operations are still too small to warrant large scale regulation, so vinophiles may find Ireland a particularly interesting case study if they’re interested in the development of a market for wines.
Where Do I Go?
Most of the wineries in Ireland are concentrated in the southwest, which situates them—relatively speaking—in the more temperate climates. If you’ve ever seen the scenic photos of foggy Ireland coasts, you’ll know that moisture is not hard to come by in humid Emerald Isles. However, harsh winters in some areas of the country makes grape growing a tricky task. There is limited sunshine, cliffs aplenty, and lots and lots of cold.
While there are vineyards outside the warmer southwest climes, the concentration of vineyards in this area will likely increase unless varietals are cultivate that can survive colder, darker climes.
What Type of Wine Can I Get?
Interestingly, the Irish still stick to the famed European grape, vinis vinifera, even though most of these vineyards fall well outside the ideal growing region for a grape that thrives in moderate and Mediterranean climates (think summering areas, like the South of France).
Sturdier red grapes, like cabernet and merlot, seem to be the most well-suited to survive a growing season and allow for a yield of wine. Like Irish beer, Irish wine is also likely to be bold and full, given the reliance on these varietals.
The Irish are also know for mead and Lusca wine, with the latter being a uniquely Irish creation. Lusca wine hails from Lusk in North Dublin County, and it is produced at Llewellyn’s Orchard alongside famous Irish ciders. It’s a deep red wine that represents some of the most successful practices in Irish winemaking to date.
If America is any indication, a tricky history marked with plenty of failures in wine producing doesn’t mean we should stop paying attention to Ireland. Irish grape growers are learning much about what works and what doesn’t on their beloved island, and through trial and error, there’s no doubt the industrious and agriculturally skilled Irish will produce world-class wines in no time.