The cut and thirst of Christmas Day
Impressing your guests with your carving skills and sophisticated wine choices is easy with the right advice, says Lucinda O'Sullivan
You'd think by this stage I'd have the Christmas dinner down to a tee! Well I do, but there are two things that exercise my brain each year - carving the bird and what wines to drink on the day.
Himself, while a great host, dodges these chores and I end up hacking away like a lunatic, grimly 'smiling' at the waiting 'lit up' faces around the table, and the yeowling Siamese, Bruno and Bobby Dazzler, circling at my feet and weighing up their chances. As to the wines, he says, 'I'll leave that to you love'. With all ages and tastes to please, the choice is not that easy.
However, I've solved my problem. Last week I attended a Carving Masterclass in Salt Restaurant at Avoca in Monkstown. Organised by Sara Mitchell and Gavin McCarthy, of Poulet Bonne Femme, we also enjoyed an early Christmas dinner of smoked salmon, turkey, ham, and roast beef. Each course was accompanied by amazing and very different wines chosen by Gerard Maguire of 64 Wine in Glasthule, Co Dublin, who talked us through each, with his reasons for going 'off piste' from the usual Christmas stalwarts.
Poulet Bonne Femme is a success story born out of the recession. In 2008, 10 days after Gavin and Sara's first little boy was born, Gavin was made redundant.
"It was 2008 and we didn't expect it because the recession hadn't really hit, but he was last in, first out." Sara said. "We realised he needed to do something; he wasn't going to get another job in property, there was nothing whatsoever. We had seen rotisserie chicken in the markets in France and Spain and we just thought maybe Dublin was missing it."
Neither had any experience in the food world but they went for it.
"Gavin got a redundancy package, so it was enough to get us started, it paid for the rotisserie and the trailer. Before we knew it, we were trading in the market in the People's Park in Dun Laoghaire."
It grew quickly, they knew they were on to something.
"The Pratt's of Avoca were customers of ours and just as they were setting up here, we were looking for a premises to get us out of the markets and indoors. We put a little plan together and met with Simon Pratt, and now we've been four years with Avoca, we have four stores with them and we have two more sons, says Sara. "It's been an interesting journey alright," laughs Gavin.
Gavin explained to us about using the correct carving knives, sharpening and storing them, while Sara talked us through the carving. Maybe, I'm not the only female carving on Christmas Day.
At the pre-demo reception we were treated to a German Emrich Schonleber 'Es' Riesling NAHE 2013.
Now, I've listened to a lot of people talking about wine over the years and been totally confused at the end of it, but Gerard Maguire caught our attention immediately, as he made the point that what most people do at Christmas is start off by greeting guests with Champagne, following up with either a traditional Bordeaux or Burgundy treat with your turkey. This is so true.
What he wanted to do was show us something a little bit more challenging - and that he did. "We would probably sell more dry German Rieslings than any other shop in Ireland," he explained. "The reason why is that some years ago we started doing these 'Christmas dinner preparations', so we started serving wines for Christmas dinners.
"I always served dry German Riesling as an aperitif rather than Champagne. It shows people the versatility of dry German Rieslings, which people think are sweet."
The Emrich Schonleber, he told us, was from the NAHE, a very small river just off the Rhine with Emrich Schonleber being regarded as one of the top Riesling producers in the world. This was their entry level wine at €19, a third of the price of a good Champagne, completely different and totally versatile. It's also good with fish that has an element of chilli or lemongrass, scallops or prawns.
Next up on Gerard's alternate Christmas wines was one I really loved, a South African Mullineux Chenin Blanc 2012 blend at €30. Aged in old oak barrels it had a smokiness, which was absolutely stunning with the Ummera smoked salmon.
As Gavin and Sara told us, while carving, that they cook about 150 Christmas dinners for customers, Gerard lined up another stunner, a Domaine Rolet, Poulsard Vielle Vignes 2011, Arbois, at €22. From the Jura region of France, on the Swiss border, this wine has only just been introduced into Ireland.
"The Poulsard grapes grown there are very old style grapes and were almost killed off 40 or 50 years ago with the advent of modern wine making. It's a very light delicate grape with very thin skins, releasing very little colour into the wine.
"The flesh is white, so it's used for making sparkling wine, but there are a handful of traditional producers, Domaine Rolet is one of them, making this beautiful delicate light juicy red wine, with red currant and earthy characteristics, which is perfect with chicken or turkey.
"It's also good with charcuterie plates, and can be served chilled, so in the summer it's great with salads or as an aperitif."
Next up in the wines was a stunning Tuscan Roccapesta Ribeo 2011 Morellino di Scansano at €19.50. This region, Gerard explained, was affected by malaria in the 1950s because it was marshland. Following major engineering works, the marshland was replaced by small wineries making very traditional wines.
Morellino is the same as Sangiovese, which is used in Chianti. This wine, he told us, is made by the best producer in the area and is aged in cement, as old traditional winemakers favour cement ageing because it gets across the true character of the grape. It goes very well with ham.The final wine of the evening was served with the most delicious roast beef and was Phinca Encanto, Rufete 2011 from Salamanca at €29.
A thoroughly enjoyable event. Masterclasses are scheduled for November 10, December 2, and January 18. Tickets cost €125 per person with a maximum of 20 people per event. Each participant will also receive a Poulet Bonne Femme gift bag with recipe cards, an Avoca cookbook and a Poulet Bonne Femme apron and chopping board.