Corned beef and wine? Yes, there are some good selections

March 18, 2023

Sorry, I forgot to prompt you folks to buy colcannon ingredients, tatties, neeps and corned beef. Since my beverage of choice for all things corned beef is Kölsch, I was not considering my wino pals. Kölsch is one of the most strictly defined beer styles in Germany: It is pale, highly attenuated (filtered, not cloudy), with plentiful effervescence providing a lovely head, top-fermented using specific yeast. Many regard this as the forerunner of our domestic lagers. Most German beers are bottom fermented. The brewers in Cologne developed their top-fermented beer during the 17th century, and its methods and process are strictly governed today. For those who aren’t in tune with beer, the foamy head adds a great deal to beer enjoyment. Its evaporation wafts the aromas into the olfactory sensors. Those who fill to the brim and wipe off the head are detracting from true enjoyment the brewer provides. In fact, I might claim that lack of a 1.5-inch head is akin to a great sparkling wine that has almost lost its bubbles. A primary difference is sparklers need to be cold, and the best beers are often served far cooler than the experts suggest. Beer should be about 55 degrees, cellar temperature. One caveat – try the temperature and head recommendation; just remember the only person who needs to be satisfied when it comes to palate is you. Be aggressively experimental, and then going forward, stick with whatever floats your boat. 

Those who are fans of corned beef and enjoy it throughout the year may be surprised to learn Cab Franc, Zin and Syrah are my go-tos, especially those that have a smoky back note. They stand up to the strong flavors and fatty nature of the food. The fruit and black pepper accents complement the salty, spiced notes of the meat. The tannins cut the effect of butter and fattiness. These characteristics endow their affinity with smoked meats, sausages, and oily fish with red sauces. Those who are fans of white wines should try an off-dry Gewurztraminer. Many point to Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Gruner Veltliner. I’ve yet to find one of these that is a great match for my taste buds. 

Perhaps you have enough leftovers for corned beef hash. Look for Lopez de Heredia Rioja Vina Cubillo Crianza DOCa 2014, 91 McD around $30. This top-flight producer retains the single-vineyard Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graziano blend until ready, and it drinks like most Gran Reservas. Look for a clear, medium-ruby color opening to black cherry, vanilla, coconut aromas with mild tobacco and damp-earth subtones. On the palate, fruit and barrel spices continue, plus some cola notes. It will continue to improve if cellared, and I have seen sales around $25 on case buys, plus delivery. Their top Rioja, which I would serve stand-alone, not with a meal, Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva, is a terrific investment wine. For example, the 95-point 2001 came out in 2008 at $41 and is currently $200; the 1996, 98 points, out in 2015 at $53, is currently $270. And the 1994, 95 points, opened at $65, is currently $413 and not much left.

Back to reality. Achaval Ferrer Malbec has been consistent with its entry-level label, garnering 90-91 from most reviewers and well under $20 since 2017. Most avid Malbecians are informed that Achaval Ferrer Finca wines under the Altimira, Mirador and Bella Vista labels are highly praised by nearly all critics, and rightfully so, except for the single-vineyard price issues I’ve flagged in past columns. These normally run in the $130 range, with 92-93 scores. While they are well made, I am hard pressed to pay the $100+ premium. My best-regarded guru Ms. Jancis also rates them around 15.5/20. She did award a 17.5 to the 2013. Also, there is truly little price/time premium in these. The 2013s are still easily findable at $125; they came in at $120 in September 2016. Go with the generic label, which is blended from juice across their vineyard spectrum and shows winemaker’s art with ripe fruit, violet and peppery accents. Fruit and pepper continue through palate, with nicely balanced fruit, acidity and subdued tannin frame. The finish is a bit lacking, causing an 88 McD plus 2 price points. In this case, it’s about the hash.

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