So this year we opted to cut back a little and instead of doing a big turkey I found a local free-range chicken to roast from one of my favorite farms, Laughing Chicken in Trenton, Florida. As I’ve mentioned before on this site, these are some very special birds, and even if they are not always “laughing,” their healthy lifestyle and good care comes across in the fantastic flavors of these humanely raised birds. Since there were only five of us for Christmas dinner, one medium large roaster worked out perfectly. I roasted it the old-fashioned way, with an appropriate anointing of extra virgin olive oil to the exterior and a cleaned out cavity filled with one of my own tangerines, cut in half, from our tree and a half lemon and a handful of garden herbs like sage, rosemary and Italian parsley. Since I used a fennel bulb to make the dressing I put some fennel fronds in the chicken as well. I roasted the chicken on a platform of sliced farmers market onions surrounded by new potatoes and farmers market carrots. I purchased the bird the weekend before Christmas and kept it frozen until Christmas Eve, when I took it out to defrost in preparation of roasting on Christmas Day. In Florida we are lucky to still have some farmers market produce in December, so I filled out the meal with some local veggies, making the meal a locavore holiday special.
Since I was visiting my mom and some of her old friends, she brought a bottle of German Riesling, the Schmitt Sohne Kabinett, which worked fine, especially with the blue crab dip they provided as an appetizer. Since we were not a lot of heavy drinkers, I didn’t bring another white, though the Botani Moscatel Seco would’ve been a top choice, or even the Crios Torrontés, a steal at ABC Fine Wines for $12 per bottle. Selfishly the wine I really wanted to bring this year is often thought to be a little too heavy for a roasted chicken: Amarone della Valpolicella. The one I selected is the Riondo, available locally for just over $30 at Gator Spirits and Fine Wines, which is a good value for an Amarone. These wines from the Veneto region tend to be $50 to $100 per bottle, not because of the varietals used, Corvino Nero, Molinara and Rondinella, unknown to most Americans, but because of the extra effort that goes in to making this special wine. The grapes are harvested late and then dried on straw mats to reduce their water weight. These grapes can be processed into either a Recioto della Valpolicella, a sweet, red, dessert wine, or vinified dry to become Amarone (which roughly translates as “bitter” in Italian, though there is nothing bitter about this lush and ripe fruit bomb). It is drier and has more alcohol than it’s Recioto cousin, hence the distinctive name. These wines are often 15% to 16% alcohol, almost unheard of in Europe (though just about normal for many Cali Zins), yet still the wine is soft and juicy and the Riondo did not overwhelm the citrus and herb flavors of this magnificent roasted bird.
I was even more pleased that the wine matched the subtle flavors of my own version of Paula Deen’s dressing, with my special Italian-themed additions of baby bella mushrooms and fennel, and a little homemade lamb stock to give the dressing more punch. I used homemade cornbread and some breadcrumbs I’d been hoarding in the fridge from a local, artisanal, seed bread. With addition of some fresh herbs, like thyme and sage, the dressing matched the complex black currant and cedar spice flavors of the wine perfectly. The juiciness of the wine only enhanced the sweet tart flavors of the cranberry sauce and the roasted carrots and potatoes. This was not a typical pairing, but since I loved both the bird and the wine, I felt I couldn’t miss.
Here are some other Amarone’s that are available locally at ABC Fine Wines and Spirits: Zonin 2007 for $45, Tommasi 2006 for $58, Masi 2006 for $58 and Zenato 2007 for $62. If all of these Amarone’s are too pricey then consider a Ripasso wine from Valpolicella, like Zenato’s 2007 Ripassa for $28. Ripassos are a little bit of a cheat as they take a lighter Valpolicella and re-ferment it on the lees of the already bottled Amarone (each vintage), so you get some of that depth and richness without having to dry all the grapes, and therefore about half the price. Enjoy!