Wines to Pair with Chicken
Ordering chicken in every restaurant gives you a pretty good idea
of how good or bad, and detail-oriented a restaurant's chef is.
Chicken loves wine, and picking a good one is not one of
life’s most difficult tasks. The great thing about chicken
is that there are 1,001 ways to cook it — and undoubtedly a
1,001 wines to go with it. And
it must be eaten with wine.
So here’s some wine for thought with some of the more familiar
variations of chicken you may find, at home or faraway.
WHAT WINE TO SERVE WITH COQ AU VIN BLANC
simmered in red wine, bacon, pearl onions, mushrooms and garlic
cloves is wonderful with red Pinot Noir from France, California, Oregon,
or any place you can find soft, silky examples of this naturally
earthy-spicy red wine. But for coq au "vin blanc" (substituting
white wine for red), I’ve found that the better match is a
dry white wine with a modicum of stony earthiness, without the weighty
fruitiness that is more typical of California’s popular Chardonnays,
without the lemony sharp edge of typical Sauvignon (or Fumé)
Blancs and without the perfumey fruitiness of Riesling or Moscato.
But not to worry; these kinds of whites are not rare, especially
in France. The round, smoky nuanced whites of Burgundy’s Macon
and Cote de Beaune regions, and the stony dry, smooth bottlings
of Pinot Blanc and Pinot d’Alsace in Alsace — any of these
In California, not all Chardonnays are distractingly fruity. In
the cooler climates like Santa Barbara, there are some crisp styles
with mineral qualities being produced (especially by Au Bon Climat),
and you’ll find similar, moderately scaled Chardonnays in
Oregon (by Argyle, Eola Hills and King Estate) as well as in Washington (you won’t have to look far for wines by Chateau Ste. Michelle).
But who says the world of coq au vin blanc turns around Chardonnay?
The Pinot Blancs of California (Murphy-Goode’s and Chalone’s)
as well as Oregon (WillaKenzie’s and Ken Wright’s) fulfill
the same culinary need when it calls for a white wine that’s
not too heavy, not too light, not too tart, and not too soft or
fruity. Just walk into a store (or restaurant) and say “Pinot
PAIRING CHICKEN CACCIATORE WITH WINE
familial Italian chicken is cooked either with tomatoes, herbs and
white wine, or braised with black olives and anchovy. Sometimes
all of it. Tuscany’s Chianti Classico and Brunello
di Montalcino, which are made from the red Sangiovese grape,
have the natural acidity and cherry tomato-like fruitiness to strike
the perfect balance with this style of chicken.
Other excellent and often cheaper Sangiovese-based red wines from
Italy include Carmignano, Sangiovese di Romagna and Rosso di Montalcino.
But from across the ocean, some of the new California grown Sangioveses — like
those of Luna, Robert Pepi, Ferrari-Carano, Seghesio and Robert
Mondavi’s La Famiglia label — have more than enough zip
and fruitiness to fit the bill.
Barring that, there are other red wine grapes — notably Barbera
and Dolcetto — cultivated in both Italy and California (and
bottled by the names of the grape in both places) that offer soft,
zesty edged fruit qualities similar to Sangiovese, making as effortless
a match with cacciatore chicken.
BEST WINE TO SERVE WITH CHICKEN PAPRIKAS
late food writer and author Roy Andries de Groot once proclaimed
his recipe for Hungarian style of chicken — browned with goose
fat, then braised with onions, garlic and, a sauce pigmented by
the mildly spiced paprika chile before thickened with sour cream — as
one of the most glorious dishes in the world, and I can’t
say I disagree. I’ve tested it, time and time again.
For paprika-laced chicken, de Groot’s classic choice was always
a lovingly cellared, old French Bordeaux or California Cabernet
Sauvignon — soft, yet rich enough to absorb the avalanche of
sweet and spicy flavors in paprika-style chicken. The problem however,
is that De Groot’s idea of “cellaring” was a vintage
at least 20 or 25 years old.
So in lieu of that, I recommend a soft, lushly fruited, California
grown red wine made from the Merlot grape (my favorites include
Voss, Swanson, de Lorimier and Echelon) or one of California’s
elegant yet dense, juicy “Bordeaux”-style blends of
Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (some examples include
de Lorimier’s Mosaic, Justin’s Justification, the Murrieta’s
Well, and the powerfully rich and composed Quintessa of Napa
Luscious Merlots = luscious chicken paprikas. The simplicity of
this formula is matched only by the beauty of its predictability.
WHAT WINE TO SERVE WITH LEMON OR GINGER CHICKEN
familiar Chinese-style dishes — in sweet and sour lemon sauces,
or steamed with ginger and garlic — call for more exotically
perfumed white wines that combine both acidity and traces of residual
sugar. But this does not mean that the best choice is Gewürztraminer,
which is a lychee-scented white wine that has a tendency towards
low acidity and slightly bitter qualities (as commonly found in
the Gewürztraminers of France’s Alsace, and many of the
dryer styles of California). Heavy, bitter styles of Gewürztraminer
have a tendency to taste unbearably harsh with sweet and sour dishes
and dishes that are sweeter and more sour than necessary.
The best white wine for strongly flavored Chinese styles of chicken is Riesling, which is lush enough to merge seamlessly
with gingery spices and gently balanced enough to echo sweet and
sour notes. The lightest yet most intensely scented and refined
Rieslings in the world come from Germany, particularly the Kabinett
quality styles from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Rheingau and Pfalz regions.
In Washington, Chateau Ste. Michelle has been turning out freshly
balanced, lusciously fruited Rieslings since the 70s; in
the Southern Hemisphere, the Rieslings by Leeuwin Estate in Western
Australia and Villa Maria in New Zealand are both wonderful, tropical-scented
wines with hints of sweetness and balanced by enough zesty acidity
to harmonize with sweet/spicy/gingery Asian-style chickens.
Best wines to pair with Asian food
PAIRING CHICKEN ETOUFFEE AND WINE
North America, the Cajun-Creole style of casserole chicken may very
well reign supreme. Versions such as Paul Prudhomme's — perfectly
thickened by roux, the "holy trinity" of onions,
bell peppers and celery, and a dozen or so other spices and seasonings — are
both complex and mercilessly intense. For something so good, the
only thing to drink with it is a great wine!
Étouffée likes wines equal to it in depth, strength
and layers of spice. This would mean a good red wine, but not one
with a dry, hard taste that would deaden the palate. The wine that
best fits this description is California’s Zinfandel, especially
the velvety, jam-scented Zinfandels produced in Sonoma by the likes
of Quivira, De Loach, Ravenswood, Ferrari-Carano, Ridge, or Dry
Of those from Napa Valley, Zinfandel connoisseurs swear by Robert
Biale and Turley Wine Cellars, although a lower range Blockheadia
Ringnosii is just as bright and juicy. In other parts of the state,
producers like Cosentino and Michael-David Vineyards (the latter
with labels like "7 Deadly Sins" and "Earthquake")
make outstanding all-American styles — big and unabashedly fruity —
for this all-American style of chicken.
BEST WINE FOR CHICKEN POT PIE
Any soft, lush, garden variety California
or Australian Chardonnay
WINE AND BARBECUE CHICKEN
If in a sticky/spicy red marinade,
a dry Rosé (like French Tavel or Grenache Rosé
from California); if in an Asian style soy/ginger marinade,
an off-dry German Riesling (Kabinett or "Half Dry”)
Top 10 Barbecue Wines
PAIRING SIMPLE GRILLED CHICKEN WITH WINE
Italian Pinot Grigio or Oregon
Pinot Gris (especially if served with a salsa or simple
squeeze of lemon)
PAIRING CHICKEN TANDOORI WITH WINE
Medium-sweet German Riesling ("Spätlese")
or Italian Moscato d'Asti
© Randal Caparoso