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How to pair wines with chicken

Whether you’re a fried chicken fiend, a casserole connoisseur or simply believe that roast chicken and a good bottle are the best companions for a Sunday lunch, here is some wine pairing advice to get you started.

Styles to consider when matching wines with chicken:

  • Chardonnay
  • Grüner Veltliner
  • Vermentino
  • Blanc de blancs Champagne
  • English sparkling wine
  • Pinot Noir
  • Spanish Garnacha

White wines with chicken, and particularly Chardonnay in various guises, tend to be go-to choices but the rule isn’t as concrete as you might think.

Lighter red wines with good acidity can make a delicious alternative, and even those with a little more body can work in heavier dishes, such as a casserole.

The basic principle is that you don’t want to overpower the meat, or the dish; a wine with a bigger kernel of luscious fruit and decent acidity could match up well with a richer dish, but too much tannic structure risks masking the flavours.

Roast chicken 

Chicken is often 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, such as via a touch of oak and perhaps a slightly riper fruit profile. 

‘Put me down for a textured white Burgundy like 2017 Pierre Yves Colin Morey St. Aubin ‘Le Banc,’ says Chris Gaither, sommelier and co-owner of Ungrafted wine bar in San Francisco.   

‘Especially if the chicken is roasted with garlic and herbs in its own juices and finished with a touch of lemon, parsley, and sea salt. I’m heading to lunch right now…’ 

Roast chicken with lemon and herbs can also work with Provence rosé wines, such as those from Bandol, or try an Austrian Grüner Veltliner, with a touch of spice, said Matthieu Longuère MS, wine development manager at Le Cordon Bleu London. 

‘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,’ Longuère wrote in a previous article on matching chicken dishes with wine for Decanter.

Acidity is generally your friend in any roast dinner situation, because the wine can help to lift all the elements on the table. 

Fried chicken with Champagne

Fried chicken has long been one of the ultimate comfort foods and a new wave of pop-up stalls and single-dish restaurants have brought this culinary artform to more people’s attention over the last decade.  

When it comes to matching wine with fried chicken, Chris Gaither is thinking big. 

‘Who doesn’t like fried chicken? And who doesn’t like Champagne? I’m a big fan of creole spiced fried chicken with a vintage blanc de blancs Champagne like Diebolt-Vallois 2010. 

‘It has great texture, on the slightly lean side, but enormous complexity and a hint of creaminess in the mid-palate with a citrusy twang.’

Sparkling wines that combine signature high acidity with a good dose of freshness can cut right through the fat of the dish.

Gaither also suggested an English sparkling wine, naming Gusbourne blanc de blancs 2014 as a particular favourite. ‘So clean, and so good!.’

Coq au vin and chicken casserole dishes

Few things build the appetite like the hearty aromas of a chicken casserole wafting through from the kitchen. 

Red wine drinkers could try uncorking a Pinot Noir, and Le Cordon Bleu London’s Longuère suggested looking beyond Burgundy.

‘A soft, low tannin, red cherry flavoured, cool climate New World Pinot Noir would be perfect,’ he wrote, citing the coastal region of Limari in Chile as one area that is worth researching.

You could also look to Mornington Peninsula in Australia, Oregon, New Zealand or California’s Santa Barbara County, to name only a few. 

In Burgundy itself, some great value can still be found in slightly lesser-known areas. Tim Atkin MW, Decanter’s Burgundy correspondent, recently suggested exploring the the Côte Chalonnaise to the south of Beaune, for example.

Pinot isn’t the only red wine to pair with chicken, of course. In general, look for fruit-forward wines with low tannins and relatively good acidity to help lift the dish.

Versatility of chicken: Think about the other flavours

A lot depends on how you cook and serve the meat, such is its versatility.

For example, a chicken and pesto dish point you towards a citrussy Vermentino with a bit of skin-contact for extra depth and texture.

A chicken Thai curry puts the heat of the dish in greater focus and could work well with a high-acid white wine that carries just a touch of residual sugar; Riesling is an option here.

Longuère suggested Spanish Garnacha – known as Grenache in France – from Navarra in northern Spain to match skinless, grilled chicken breast.

‘Its ripe and juicy blackberry flavour will toy with the smokiness from the grill,’ he wrote.

And finally

It seems bizarre these days that chicken was once a rarity on dinner tables, yet global production and consumption have rocketed in the last 50 years.

It can be relatively cheap to produce and has garnered a reputation as a healthier meat due to its generally favourable protein-to-fat ratio.

There is, however, a huge difference in flavour depending on how birds have been reared. Always opt for higher welfare standards if you can, and choose organic if possible, too.


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