Friday, March 16, 2012

Pairing Corned Beef and Cabbage with Wine

We are at the time of the year when it is Irish rising.  Everything is green and corned beef and cabbage and Guinness Stout rule the roost.  What do you do if you are a wine drinker and would like to enjoy a traditional meal of corned beef and cabbage but would like to pair it with your favorite beverage -- wine? You have ascended from the cultural backwater of beer swilling and you will not be dragged back to that arena -- even if beer/ale/stout is the best pairing for corned beef and cabbage.

Corned beef and cabbage provide a pairing nightmare for the wine lover in that (i) the corned beef is salty; (ii) the corned beef is fatty; (iii) vinegar and a number of spices are added to the boil; (iv) cabbage is added towards the end of the boil; and (v) cabbage adds sweetness from the vegetable but also adds some sulfurous properties.  Bill Garlough, owner of My Chef Catering, sees a solution as requiring sweetness to counter the saltiness in the beef and acidity to cut through the fat.

For white wine lovers, Bill recommends a Gewurtztraminer because it has hints of clove on the palate and meets the requirements of sweetness and acidity. He also sees a place for Pinot Gris which is drunk with sauerkraut in France and so should pair well with the cabbage. In addition to this traditional affinity with cabbage, Pinot Gris has adequate levels of sweetness and acidity. Joe Power ( bypasses these recommendations in favor of Sauvignon Blanc.  According to Joe, Sauvignon Blanc has the acidity to cut through the salt and fattiness of the corned beef and the flavor profile to pair well with cabbage.

Red wines provide even more of a pairing challenge.  Traditional reds like Cabernet Sauvignon have too much tannin while Pinot Noirs, while possessing the acidiy and sweetness, are too delicate for this robust meal. Joe recommends a French Cote du Rhone or Beaujolais, both of which posses adequate amounts of fruit, sweetness and acidity to meet the challenge.

I was very surprised that none of the publications that I researched for this article mentioned champagne as an option.  I have always been taught that champagne is the "universal solvent"  and that its hints of lemon, apple, hazelnut, and yeastiness allow it to go well with salty foods.

I went to a traditional Irish dinner at Tom D's house this afternoon and decided to take a sparkling wine along to test my theory. The sparkling was a NV Segura Viudas Cava Aria Brut .

"Its flavor is dominated by fresh pineapple, almonds, honey and straw, with hints of pears and fresh bread." This Spanish sparkling, listed on at $12, has done duty for me before and I have been very pleased with its feel and taste, especially when properly chilled. 

Tom had a full complement of boiled-to-perfection corned beef, late-addition cabbage, and boiled whole red potatoes.  I had opened the Cava previously and, after heaping my plate with the aforementioned goodies, I proceeded to spoon food into my mouth and follow with a healthy swig of wine.  A lot of the fat had been stripped from the corned beef before and during the cooking process so I did not have to contend with major fattiness.  The sparkling worked well in neutralizing the saltiness of the corned beef and enhancing its flavor but I am not sure that the cabbage and sparkling had a healthy interaction.  The texture of the cabbage did not allow thesparkling to integrate with the food in the mouth. It was like pouring water onto a duck's back.  The sparkling slid along the surface of the cabbage before making a beeline for the esophagus.

If you are a white wine drinker, stick to Gewurtz or Pinot Gris for your cabbage and corned beef dinner.  If you love red wines, go with a Cote du Rhone.


  1. I'm really surprised that you didn't mention any riesling. Cabbage is various forms is traditional for Germany and so riesling is always a good option. The variety of sweet/acidic combinations with rieslings is almost infinite, therefore i would suggest it first. most sauvignon blancs would be too aromatic and gewurztraminer... well that would be my last chioce.

    1. Agree with you on Riesling as a viable option. In addition to the points you raise, the acidity in the Riesling balancing the saltiness of the cornerd beef is one of the considerations of this pairing option.