Most people tend to assume that white wine is for chicken. It’s certainly the safe choice of wine for the popular poultry.
The truth of pairing wine with chicken is more complicated than just taking the first bottle of white you land on. For instance, many people are surprised to learn that red or rosé are better choices for certain chicken meats.
In this article, we’re going to walk you through the basics of pairing wines with different chicken cuts. We’re also going to look at how to pair wine with different chicken dishes. Naturally, the flavors of a dish will change how the dish interacts with the wine.
When you’re trying to decide what wine to pair with a chicken dish, you need to think about 3 different aspects.
The first thing to consider is the kind of meat being served. Chicken is a white meat, but there are darker parts to the bird. These darker meats call for a different wine to the lighter breast meat, for instance.
The next thing to think about is the cooking method. Roasted chicken is quite different to poached chicken or fried chicken, after all.
Finally, you want to consider the sauces or seasoning used on the chicken. The seasoning and sauces are often the predominant flavors of a dish, so you need to think carefully about how they interact with your wine choice.
None of these three aspects takes precedence over the others. You need to try and find balance between the recommendations for each aspect. Look for common elements where possible.
As a general rule, try to remember the lighter the meat, the lighter the wine. Similarly, the darker the meat, the darker the wine.
Chicken is a light meat, but there are some parts that are considered dark meat, namely the thighs and the drumsticks.
This means that if you’re serving a lighter cut like the breast, white wine is the perfect accompaniment.
If, however, you’re serving a darker cut like the thigh, you might want to look at a rosé or a red.
You can still serve white wine with chicken thighs or drumsticks, but try to choose a wine that has a bolder bouquet. This will help it accentuate the richer flavor of the darker chicken meat.
We’re going to take a closer look at the cuts and give you some of our top recommendations.
Chicken breast is lighter meat than needs a white wine. Of course, much depends on the sauce and the preparation, but in general you’re looking for a dry white.
Our recommendations are a Viognier or a Chardonnay. Viognier is full bodied, fruity wine that works exceptionally well with herby chicken breasts. It usually has hints of peach or honeysuckle in the bouquet.
Chardonnay is another full-bodied wine. It is a classic choice for chicken and works incredibly well with most chicken breast dishes. It tends to have a rich flavor, which makes it a great choice for creamy chicken breast recipes.
Thighs and Drumsticks
This darker part of the chicken can handle a darker wine. Don’t go off the deep end and choose a full-bodied red, that will be too overpowering.
Your best bet is a light red like a pinot noir or a grenache. These have the depth to handle the richer meat, but aren’t so heavy as to drown the chicken flavor.
If you prefer white wine, again, chardonnay is a great choice. It tends to be darker and deeper, which supports the darker meat. A white rioja is also a safe choice. Again, it’s deep bodied and usually has a deep gold color.
How you cook your chicken definitely impacts the kind of wine you pair. The cooking process imparts different flavors and textures. In turn, these flavors and textures work differently with different wines.
There are so many different ways to cook and prepare your chicken, we couldn’t hope to cover them all. Instead, we’re going to look at some of the most common chicken cooking methods.
Roast chicken is a classic. Whether you’re having a British style Sunday dinner or a full-on holiday roast, you can’t go far wrong with chicken.
Roasted chicken is quite rich because the flavors are preserved within the bird. To match the flavor, you want an equally rich wine.
Chardonnays are a great choice for roast chicken, particularly oak matured chardonnays. The oak adds a beautiful richness to the wine.
You can also pair a balanced rosé like a Pinot Noir or a light red like a Grenache or Pinot Noir with roasted chicken.
- Domaine de Saint Pierre Château Renard Arbois 2018
- Jordan Wines Nine Yards Chardonnay 2018
- Peregrine Pinot Noir 2016
BBQ chicken is a summer staple. Whether you’re grilling some wings or serving some chicken skewers, wine is a perfect accompaniment.
The smokier flavors of BBQ chicken give the meat a deeper, darker flavor, which means that you can pair it with darker wines.
Reds are ideal for BBQ chicken. You don’t have to stick to the Pinot Noirs though, the intense BBQ flavors call for something richer like a Malbec or a Cabernet Franc.
Fried chicken is a wonderful comfort food. It has been viewed as a greasy fast food, but this perception is wrong. Fried chicken carries beautiful flavors and a lovely, tender texture.
The key to pairing wine with fried chicken is to go for the bubbles! Sparkling whites are the best choices for fried chicken. The acidity of the sparkling wine cuts through the grease and oil of fried chicken dishes.
Poached chicken has an exceptionally light flavor, especially if the chicken is poached in plain water. To avoid overwhelming the flavor, choose a light white like a Chenin Blanc or light Pinot Grigio.
If you’re serving chilled chicken, perhaps with a salad or as a pasta dish, choose a lighter wine. Cold or chilled dishes have a more delicate flavor that you do not want to overpower.
Unoaked, lighter Chardonnays are a great choice as are Pinot Blancs or Chablis
Sauces and Seasoning
Again, the huge range of seasoning and sauces available is just too much to cover in a single article. We’re going to focus on some of the more common seasonings and flavors used for chicken dishes.
The basic principle with wine-based sauces is to serve the same wine that you used in the sauce. This goes for white wine butter sauces, red wine sauces, and lemon and white wine sauces.
The exception to this rule is fortified wine sauces. If the recipe uses Sherry or Madeira, then you want to go for a dark, rich red with a hint of spice.
Tempranillos and Zinfandels are great choices for fortified wine sauces. They have the depth and richness to compete with the sauce.
Commonly used herbs for chicken include thyme, sage, marjoram, and pepper. These flavors are softly aromatic, which means they pair best with a lightly aromatic white wine.
A dry Viognier or Marsanne does really well with your standard chicken seasonings. Again, the key is to look for something aromatic.
This is another common herb used for cooking chicken, but it merits a special mention. Rosemary is a fantastically fragrant herb that has a sweet touch to it. Due to the sweeter note, you want a slightly sweeter wine.
A Sauvignon Blanc or a drier Riesling. You don’t want to go for a super sweet Riesling, this will overpower the chicken and the rosemary.
- Little Beauty Black Edition Sauvignon Blanc 2016
- Cave Vinicole de Hunawihr Riesling Alsace Grand Cru ‘Rosacker’ 2019
If you’ve ever been to a curry house or a Thai restaurant, you’ll know that most of the wines on the menu are pretty sweet. This is because the sweeter wines are able to cut through the heavier flavors of a curry and lift the aromas.
The sweet wine also pairs wonderfully well with that slightly sweet coconut flavor that comes from the oils.
Look for a Riesling or a Moscato. These are wonderfully sweet wines that are beautiful with chicken curries.
While you might be tempted to just drag out any old Chardonnay for a chicken dinner, try to think a bit more deeply about the flavors of your meat.
The wine should meet the intensity of the chicken flavors. Strong, bold flavors deserve a strong, bold wine.