By Rick Riozza
Lately at my wine aisle, I’ve been asked several times to recommend a wine that’ll go well with—okay, you guessed it: chicken. Out here in the desert, a chicken dish does seem to be one of the best proteins to match the climate. No one really likes a heavy dinner in hot heavy weather, unless you do.
And no one needs convincing when it comes to choosing chicken. It’s versatile and pairs with so many different seasonings, side dishes, and accompaniments. And whilst we’re on the subject, it pairs with so many types of wine as well. White wine & chicken was always the safe route to take. It still is, but in the new brave world of wine, anything can and does happen.
No new news here: when it comes to chicken and wine pairing, a lot depends on how you cook and serve the bird. As with all wine pairing advice, you don’t want to overpower the dish. I remember a time when most Californians would easily reach for a big Cabernet Sauvignon, because, “We love big Cab no matter what!” And sometimes the chicken on the plate got thumped and lost its way with the Cab’s tannic structure which masked the dish’s flavors. But enough talk about masks already.
Okay—roast chicken is seen everywhere and can be picked up for dinner stat. Here it’s easy to select a wine because it goes with a full-flavored red, a medium-bodied rosé, or a dry white. Hard to mess-up here, I favor a nice Côtes du Rhône. They’re on sale everywhere; you can find a very decent one for under ten bucks
Oftentimes the chicken is roasted with a medley of herbs, as well as perhaps some garlic, lemon and butter. Chardonnay is a classic match here, but think about choosing one that carries a little more weight through the use oak. And if it has a good fruit profile as well—good deal. I’m not a big Chard lover, but on a good day I’ll look for a Sonoma Chardonnay.
Roast chicken with lemon and herbs can also work very well with Provence rosé wines and dry aromatic whites. Because of the acidity of the lemon and the pungency of the herbs and garlic, a ripe aromatic white wine or a full flavour rosé would be perfect, such as those from Bandol. A Sauvignon Blanc works well as it’s light enough not to overpower a delicate herbal rub on chicken, and its crisp finish will keep your chicken tasting fresh.
A sexy choice would be an Austrian Grüner Veltliner that owns a touch of spice along with a cleansing bright flavor. We all agree that acidity is generally your friend in any roast dinner situation, because the wine can help to lift all the elements on the table.
Apart from the roasted, how about your favorite Southern fried chicken. I always need salty, juicy, crispy fried chicken in my life; and if I’m treating, I may as well go all out and choose a Champagne. Yeah!—that’s the dinner table setting we like to see.
The acidity and effervescence of a French Champagne cuts through the richness of the fried coating and the zesty, citrus notes will elevate your chicken with a delectable complexity. A vintage blanc de blancs Champagne has great texture and is on the slightly lean side. It’s complex with a hint of creaminess along with a citrusy twang to match mama’s fried chicken.
Again, I’m not a big Chard fan, but I’m enjoying some fettuccini alfredo or chicken pot pie, believe it or not, a Chardonnay is the real ticket here. Creamy rich chicken dishes yearn for nice, somewhat buttery, Chard. Given Chardonnay’s velvety mouthfeel, it envelops your mouth in creaminess while still maintaining a rich citrus tone. I’m liking a Russian River Chardonnay—spend a bit perhaps, and buy a good one.
The wine world loves to say, “Heat likes sweet.” So when it comes to spicy Asian dishes, we get heat as well as sour as well as fresh herb aromas and flavors. Aromatic white wines like medium-dry Riesling or the new fan favorite, Pinot Gris, as well as fruity rosés complement spicy chicken dishes.
Other aromatic wines such as Gewürztraminer and Torrontés go well with chicken dim sum or sesame chicken. The distinctive characters of these grapes—with their touch of sweetness, always satisfies.
For spicier dishes, such as Thai chicken curry, Riesling again works. And of course my favorite wine for any spicy spicy dish is a DOGC Moscato d’Asti. It’s got that Italian frizzante bubbles along with Moscato’s light sweet complexity.
Finally—the classic Chicken coq au vin, traditionally cooked in dry Burgundy wine and the rich flavors of shallots, garlic, and mushrooms, well, this chicken dish comes alive with Merlot—who knew? Merlot has mellow tannins and its bold, spicy taste will bring out the savory complexity of coq au vin. The black cherry overtones of Merlot bring out the tang of the garlic and doesn’t overpower the subtle taste of fresh thyme and carrots. Of course the Burgundy wine you use to prepare works as well.
Another idea with the coq au vin, is to cook it in dry Riesling wine. This keeps the dish much lighter—no so heavy, especially in the heat of the night. Bon Appétit & Cheers!