Monthly Archives: March 2015

Irish Wine – Who’d Have Drunk It?

Concannon Vineyards

Concannon Vineyards

Last week, my friends Dolores and Dan invited me to their house for a St. Patrick’s Day dinner of beef and Guinness stew.  When I told Dolores that I had brought an “Irish” wine for the dinner, she looked at me as if I had two heads.  Even to my Irish friends, the idea of Irish wine seems like a joke.  Not many of them know that one of the first families of California wine making is descended from an Irish immigrant.  I had just read about pioneering winemaker James Concannon on the Daily Sip blog.   What a great story. He was born in the Aran Islands on St. Patrick’s Day, 1847, and, like many young Irishmen, left Ireland at 18 in search of adventure and better opportunities.  He made his way to Mexico and California and was engaged in all kinds of business endeavors.  In 1883, he purchased a property in the Livermore Valley, California, initially to make communion wine for the Catholic Church. Four generations later, the Concannon family is still producing wine at that same vineyard and is very proud of its Irish heritage.  In 2012, John Concannon produced an Irish whiskey aged in Concannon Petite Sirah casks as a tribute to his great grandfather.

When President Ronald Reagan — a former Governor of California — visited the birthplace of his parents in 1984, he presented a Methuselah (6 liter bottle) of Concannon Reserve Petite Sirah 1979 vintage to Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald as an official gift from the United States.  I doubt that James Concannon could ever have imagined that one day his family’s wine would be presented to the Prime Minister of an independent Ireland by an Irish American President of the United States.

I love this story so much and since Concannon is close enough to my own surname, I think Concannon Vineyards is going to be my new “house” wine.

For more information about the history of Concannon family, their wines and family recipes go to the Concannon Vineyard web site.

(For a fascinating history of Irish winemakers around the world, read “A Kingdom of Wine” by Ted Murphy published by the Ireland Fund Winegeese Society.)

Irish Fish Chowder

This is the perfect warming bowl after you get home cold and hungry from the St. Patrick’s Day parade.   The genius thing is it only takes about 20 minutes to make and is filling enough for dinner.

I recently saw Irish chef Kevin Dundon of Dunbrody House in Wexford on TV making the fish chowder they serve in the hotel.  It looked so easy and delicious that I couldn’t wait to make my own version. In Chicago, we don’t have the same selection of fish that they have in Ireland, so I improvised using the wild fish my local supermarket had available.  I even threw in half a can of wild Alaskan salmon that I was leftover from lunch.  What makes this chowder Irish is the smoked salmon, but  other than that, feel free to use any other fish and seafood available to you.  I have converted everything into American measurements.

Nil geal an gaire ach san ait a mbionn an biadh — laughter is brightest were the food is best.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

If you like this recipe, please share it.  If you make it, please come back and comment and let me know how you made it your own.


Irish Fish Chowder

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 4 serving

Serving Size: one bowl

Irish Fish Chowder


  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 small leek, cleaned and chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 small carrot, diced
  • 2 medium red potatoes peeled and cubed
  • 2 oz. smoked salmon, cut into strips
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups fish or seafood stock (I used Swanson's seafood stock in a box)
  • 1/4 lb. sockeye salmon, cut into bite size pieces and skin removed.
  • 1/4 pound cod, cut into bite size pieces and skin removed
  • 1/4 pound haddock, cut into bite size pieces and skin removed
  • 6 Key West shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 tbsp. chopped, fresh tarragon
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • salt and pepper


  1. Melt the butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add leek, onion, carrot, potato and smoked salmon. Saute for a few minutes until the vegetables soften
  3. Pour in the wine and allow the liquid to reduce by half.
  4. Add the fish or seafood stock. Bring the liquid to a simmer, then add the fresh fish and shellfish.
  5. Bring the pot back to a simmer. Add the tarragon, cream, salt and pepper.
  6. Cover and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. Serve in bowls with fresh bread and butter

Black Velvet, the original Irish cocktail

Black velvet 004


This St. Patrick’s Day, if, like me, you have long outgrown crowded, rowdy bars serving Juvenile plastic cups of watery green beer, raise a glass to your Irish heritage with the original Irish cocktail.   I’m talking about Black Velvet, an elegant combination of Guinness or other stout beer with champagne, that was created in the late nineteenth century.  Like the little black dress, its sophistication lies in its simplicity.  It says that you know who you are and having nothing to prove.

The first time I drank Black Velvet was in rooms at midnight at Trinity Ball, the social event of the year at Trinity College Dublin.  I was also served the cocktail as an after dinner drink in Chicago at a party celebrating the birthday of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde.  To quote the great man “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”  I’ll drink to that. Slainte!

To make a Black Velvet, pour Guinness or other stout halfway up a champagne flute – tilt the glass toward you to preserve the creamy head of the beer – then fill the rest of the glass with chilled champagne.