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How to pair wines with chicken

Chicken lovers unite! Whether you’re a casserole connoisseur, a fried chicken fiend or simply believe that roast chicken and a good bottle are the ultimate Sunday lunch combination, here's some wine pairing advice to get you started.

Chicken is by far the UK’s most popular meat and its popularity continues to grow. When it comes to matching chicken with wine, there are plenty of mouth-watering options depending on how the meat has been prepared… and when it comes to pairings it’s not all about white wine.

White wine 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 such as Pinot Noir or Gamay 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 through the use oak in the winery, or a New World option with a riper fruit profile. 

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. 

Chicken in Asian cuisine

Alongside pork and shellfish, chicken is a mainstay of many Asian cuisines but while it is ubiquitous in noodle, rice and dumpling dishes it can tricky to pair at times. Food and wine expert Fiona Beckett suggests pairing anglicised sweet and sour dishes with ‘aromatic white blends such as Hugel’s Gentil or TWR’s Toru from Marlborough, New Zealand’.

Also look to aromatic varieties such as Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Torrontes to go with minced chicken dim sum or sesame chicken. The distinctive characters of these grapes not to mention a touch of sweetness at times work well here.

For spicier dishes, such as Thai chicken curry, Riesling again is a go to, particularly off-dry styles with some residual sugar.

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, sommelier and co-owner of San Francisco wine bar Ungrafted, 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!’

Styles to consider when matching wines with chicken:

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

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 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.

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.

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