Hot Wines, Hot Wings: Pairing Wine and Wings

Wine and wings: not exactly a common mental image. But believe it or not, pairing wine and wings is a challenge we *must* take on. Why? Because it’s delicious.

The only problem you’ll encounter is sticky sauce covered wine glasses. But, whomever is willing to share this level of social awkwardness with you is a friend worth keeping. Also, this is what Wet-Naps are for.


Wine and wings pairings illustrations by Wine Folly

It’s Always About the Sauce

Much like pairing wine with BBQ, finding the perfect complementary wine and wings come down to the sauce. You’re looking for wine qualities that match up with the spice, heat, and acid (vinegar) found in common wing sauces.

So you need wines that quell the heat, accentuate the acidity (with their own acidity), and complement the spicing. Despite common logic, a big, bold, and tannic red wine isn’t always the wisest choice. A hammer can’t do the job of a Philips-head.

We need food wines.

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Wine and Wings: 6 Mouthwatering Pairings

It seems like every bar and restaurant has its own take on wings, but we’ve compiled 6 of the most popular and matched them with some great wine options. Try them out and tell us what you think.

PLANT-BASED PEOPLE: You can delight in this list too, just replace the protein with your favorite meatless alternative. Wine is for everyone.


Wine and Buffalo wings pairing with Riesling - by Wine Folly
My gawd what have we here?

Buffalo

The true classic. Made from butter and hot sauce, Buffalo wings come in a variety of heat levels: from mild to “sign a waiver before eating this.”

Pairs With: Riesling, Vouvray, Gewürztraminer.

Why It Works: Beyond their unique flavor, Buffalo wings bring the heat: some would argue that’s the whole point. And a sweeter wine is just the thing to pair with spicier foods.

That sugar will work wonders in mitigating the sharper aspects of the heat of the wings. In fact, the hotter the sauce, the sweeter you want to go.

The higher acidity is going to cut through the buttery sauce and the fatty chicken beneath. As an added bonus, the citrus and stone fruit typically present in a Riesling or Gewürztraminer complements the tangy flavor of your average Buffalo sauce.


French Sauvignon Blanc paired with lemon pepper chicken - illustration by Wine Folly
Who needs lemon when there’s Sauv Blanc?

Lemon Pepper

Whether you’re trying a dry rub or the less common wet sauce, lemon pepper wings offer a light, zingy flavor that’s typically less spicy than most of the wings on this list.

Pairs With: French Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis, Dry Riesling.

Why It Works: The key word here is “lemon.” So you’re looking for wines with the right level of high, citrus flavor and an acidity to match.

All of these wines typically have brilliant lemon aromas, along with a steelier sense of minerality that will go with the hit of pepper that comes with each bite.

You’ll likely want to avoid the more flamboyant flavors of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or the vanilla of an oaked Chardonnay, however. Those big, booming whites are more likely to overpower the more subtle notes in a lemon pepper wing.


BBQ wings with Carmenere or Cabernet Franc wine - illustration by Wine Folly
Remember to breathe between bites.

BBQ

BBQ sauce itself has almost as many iterations as there are states in America. But when we’re talking wings, you’re most likely to run into sweeter, heavier sauces like those from Kansas City.

Pairs With: Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Carménère.

Why It Works: Chicken or no chicken, these kind of big, bold sauces call for a red to match.

The booming red and black fruit you find in any of these selections is going to complement the tomatoes and spices found in BBQ wing sauce. The high tannins are going to cut through any heat of chili and cayenne.

Savory, herbal notes found in these reds will be the perfect companion to the garlic and onions in the sauce. And the wine’s dry nature will offset the sweetness of brown sugar and molasses.


Honey Garlic chicken with sparkling rosé or crémant wine - illustration by Wine Folly
Is it too much to want to eat this for breakfast?

Honey Garlic

Sweet and savory, Honey Garlic-based wings tend to sacrifice heat for a big aroma, along with a tangy flavor.

Pairs With: Sparkling Rosé, Crémant d’Alsace, Prosecco.

Why It Works: Honey and garlic are two big flavors. So you’ve got two options: try to compete with those heavy aromas, or help carry them to greater heights. In this situation, we’ve gone with the latter.

The light berries of a Rosé or the citrus and apple of a Crémant or Prosecco are going to complement the powerful flavors of the sauce.

The crisp acidity and bubbles will cut through its heavy, syrupy nature: just make sure you’re working with a dry wine!


Thai Sweet Chili wine pairing Pinot Gris - illustration by Wine Folly
More Alsatian wines at Thai restaurants please. (hint hint!)

Sweet Chili

Like your unrequited crush, these Thai-inspired wings somehow manage to pull off both the sweet and the spicy.

Pairs With: Chenin Blanc, Zweigelt, Pinot Gris.

Why It Works: Generally, a Thai Chili sauce packs less heat than other wing sauces. That means you don’t need the sweetest wines out there to compete. An off-dry white or light red can easily stand up to that spice, while blending just enough sugar into the mix.

Plus, these wines all have a solid bit of acidity, which will cut through the sauce and the fat of the chicken wing.


Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times: wine pairs well with anything. Not just the fancy stuff!

And just because you’re sucking sauce off your fingers and tossing chicken bones over your shoulder doesn’t mean you can’t have the perfect wine to match.

What are some of your go-to wine and wing pairings? Any specialties at your local pub that we’ve missed?

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About Phil Keeling

I throw words at the walls of Wine Folly’s channels until something sticks, like a fistful of verbal spaghetti. I also write plays, jokes, and the occasional diatribe.