BASICS TO PAIRING WINE WITH CHICKEN
White Meat vs. Dark Meat – As a general rule, white meat such as chicken or turkey breast pairs well with white wines like Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, while dark meat like duck and other game go well with medium-bodied red wines such as Pinot Noir or Zinfandel.
What wine goes with chicken seems like a straightforward question. Well, not exactly.
Firstly, what kind of chicken are we talking about? Do you have a 15-piece KFC chicken bucket? Or maybe a perfectly poached organic chicken at Eleven Madison Park in NYC.
There are as many different types of wine as there are ways to prepare a chicken. So, we’ll need to develop a better way to find the right answer.
The right place to start is the type of poultry, seasoning, and sauce. Beyond these basics, we’ll discuss the techniques you can use to create your wine pairings matched to any dish you’d like to prepare.
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Pairing Based …
- … on the Type of Wine
- … on the Type of Poultry
- … on the Preparation Style
- … on the Sauce or Seasoning
- Wine Based Sauces
- Traditional European Flavors
- Asian/Indian Flavors
- South American
- Pop Quiz
Pairing Wine with Chicken and Poultry
Wines Paired with Recommended Dishes
While the sauce will greatly affect the flavor of the meat, here are some great wines to try with lighter and more delicately flavored poultry.
Try to match the intensity of the dish with the intensity of the wine.
- Oaked Chardonnay
- Rich dishes with cream sauces pair well with oaked Chardonnay. Look for wines from California, (Mendoza) Argentina, Chile, Spain, Southern France, South Australia, and Italy.
- White Côtes du Rhône
- This white wine blend containing Marsanne and Roussanne is similar to an oaked Chardonnay and pairs similarly with rich dishes and cream sauces.
- An aromatic variety that pairs well with floral herbs like sage or lavender. Look for wines from Paso Robles (CA), Washington State, South Africa, and Australia.
- Sauvignon Blanc
- A wine perfect for white meats with green herbs. The warmer the climate region, the more roasty and meaty the dish can be. Check out Sauvignon Blanc from California, Australia, Italy, Washington State, and Chile.
- Ugni Blanc / Colombard / Grenache Blanc
- Think chicken salad or turkey-avocado sandwich with these zesty whites produced in the South of France. These wines usually have flavors of lemon, white flowers, and the zestiness cuts the fat in the dishes.
- Chenin Blanc
- Poached and other delicately prepared white meats like paté. Look for bone-dry examples from the Loire Valley of France or South Africa.
- A bit of a surprise, this slightly sweet wine goes rather well with darker meats like duck.
Because of its medium body, rosé wine is sometimes an even better option than white or red. For the most part, look for dry rosé wines unless the sauce is inherently sweet. Find out more about rosé wine.
Select light aromatic red wines to medium-bodied red wines with lighter tannin structure. The richer the preparation of the meat, the more color, richness, and tannin you can have in your wine.
- An aromatic red wine from Northern Italy. Lighter than Pinot Noir and typically served slightly chilled. Pairs well with cold dishes, such as a turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce or chicken salad.
- A Northern Italy red wine that grows in Alto Adige. The wines burst with red fruit flavors like strawberry sauce and cotton candy (in a good way). Because of its fruit-forward character, it will work well with teriyaki and other soy-based sauces.
- Pinot Noir
- Pinot Noir has long been considered a classic pairing with duck. We think you should also try an Old World Pinot Noir like Burgundy with Squab.
- Nebbiolo from the Langhe
- Nebbiolo has many different faces and one of them is much lighter than the more famous (and expensive versions). Consider Nebbiolo to be the light-haired step-child of Barolo that pairs really well with mushroom-heavy dishes.
- Zinfandel has long been considered the best Thanksgiving wine with turkey dinner. Go cranberry sauce!
- Fruity, higher alcohol, and lighter in tannins, Grenache and Grenache-based wines like Cotes du Rhone or Priorat are wonderful with richly flavored game.
- St. Laurent
- A wine related to Pinot Noir that makes a great wine to use as a red wine sauce base for the duck. Want to know more light-bodied wines like Pinot and St. Laurent? Check out 13 Light Red Wine Varieties
Types of Poultry Paired with Wine
White Meat Flavors
A quick tip is to think “lighter meat, lighter wine.” Roasting poultry preserves a lot of the rich flavors, so sometimes you can get away with a red wine with more complexity.
Chicken – A lightly flavored, medium textured meat.
Poussin – Poussin is like a mini chicken, tastes like chicken, often prepared like Quail.
Quail – More assertive flavor than chicken but not as strong as duck. Very tender, small, usually with bones. Sweet nutty flavor. Quail is traditionally stuffed with forcemeat due to a small size.
Turkey – The breast meat of turkey is lightly flavored and has a strong texture.
Darker Meat Flavors
In this case.. “Darker meat, darker wine.” Below are the best birds to pair with red wines.
Pigeon Squab (rock dove) – Succulent but earthy with darker meat and delicate texture.
Pheasant – Pinkish-white meat, with delicate flavors that are a touch more exotic and apple-like than chicken.
Partridge – The texture is not as delicate as pheasant or squab but with a similar flavor of earthy dark meat.
Guinea Fowl – Tastes like a combination of chicken and turkey with dark meat overtones.
Duck – More assertive flavor with an oily and gamey note. Depending on the preparation, duck can be more reminiscent of pork.
Turkey – Long grain and strong textured meat. Turkey has a rich buttery and nutty flavor.
Goose – Almost like a wild turkey with all dark meat. Often noted as being similar to roast beef.
Ostrich – Unlike other birds and more steak-like in texture. Ostrich is an extremely lean and tender red meat, so try to pair it with wines that have less tannin and more juiciness, such as a Côtes du Rhône or Syrah.
Cooking Styles Paired with Wine
Wondering why you haven’t seen Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah on this list yet? Whether or not you can pair a bolder red wine with your meal will depend mainly on how you prepare and season your bird. Below are wine pairings to some common styles of chicken.
- Roasting is definitely a favorite fowl preparation method, especially for smaller birds like Quail. A well-practiced roast will make the meat very tender, but also preserves all of the intensity in flavor. This method begs for richer white wines such as Chardonnay, rosé wine, or a light bodied red like Pinot Noir or Grenache.
- Barbecuing chicken bumps the smoky flavors up, which makes it possible to pair with richer red wines like Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc or even BBQ’s best friend, Malbec. Look for more savory (avoid sweet sauces) to pair with wine.
- Poaching is a technical prep style that preserves the texture and moisture in the meat but removes a lot of the flavor. Because of this, you can get away with a very light white wine such as a dry Chenin Blanc or Colombard with your bird.
- There’s nothing better than rose Champagne / Sparkling wine or Lambrusco with Fried Chicken.
- Sautéing is a preparation method that helps the breast meat absorb the flavors in the sauce. See below for help on what wines to pair with different types of sauces.
- Chilled Dishes
- Usually poached, boiled or roasted, and then chilled. Cold poultry tends to pair wonderfully with lighter white wines like Albarino, Pinot Blanc, Verdejo, unoaked Chardonnay.
Sauces and Seasonings Paired with Wine
Wine Based Sauces
- Lemon and Beurre Blanc
- White wine butter sauce is a classic favorite with chicken and fish. You can serve your chicken with the same wine you used to make the sauce. See our article on the best white wine to cook with and watch a video on how to make Beurre Blanc the easy way.
- Madeira/Sherry Based Sauces
- These dark and rich sauces work well with medium-bodied spice-driven wines like Barbera, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Grenache, Primitivo, and Zinfandel.
- Red Wine Sauce
- Use a lighter red wine in your preparation and then serve the very same wine with your meal. Pinot Noir is a classic choice. The higher alcohol content in the wine, the sweeter the sauce will taste.
Traditional European Flavors
- Standard Poultry Seasoning
- Usually, a variation of a blend of thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary, black pepper, and nutmeg, these spices do well with an aromatic white wine such as Viognier but sometimes will also work with Grenache-based wines.
- Rosemary and Other Herbs
- Rosemary works wonders with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or a Dry Riesling.
- Mushroom based Sauces
- The earthiness of mushrooms makes medium red wines a great pairing.
- à l’Orange
- Classically, Duck à l’Orange tastes phenomenal with aromatic white wines such as Gewürztraminer, Riesling or even Torrontés.
Since many Asian and Indian dishes play with spice and sweetness, make your wine choice a sweet and fruity white or red wine served chilled. Pick rosé or red wines with darker soy-sauce based dishes.
- Sweet and Sour
- Don’t deny yourself the pleasure of drinking Moscato or the Italian sparkling rosé called Brachetto d’Aqui with sweet and sour.
- 5-spice powder
- Fruity and smoky Zinfandel or Australian Grenache are good choices for red wines. For a white, I’d be scouring a wine list for Gewürztraminer, Furmint, or Kerner.
- Ever wonder why there are so many sweet white wine options at Thai and Indian restaurants? Spicy dishes do well with sweet wines, and the fat in coconut pairs very well with aromatic white wines. Need some examples? Look for Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Moscato, and Müller-Thurgau.
- Because teriyaki is both sweet and a dark sauce, a sweeter red wine would be a great option. Look for Lambrusco (amabile or dolce style). Even something like Sherry pairs wonderfully when served slightly chilled.
South American Flavors
- Jamaican Jerk
- This complex blend of spices that include rosemary, onion, allspice, ginger cinnamon, garlic, paprika, and black pepper beg for a wine with a lot of spice to counteract the rich flavors. Zinfandel and Tempranillo would be a great option.
- Mole Sauce
- Mole contains both chocolate and sesame, natural aromas found in many Sherry and Madeira wines.
- A sauce made with a blend of parsley, olive oil, vinegar (or lemon), cumin, garlic and oregano. This particular sauce has a lot of green flavors, so a more herbaceous wine with high acidity would pair nicely. For red wines, think about a Nebbiolo, Cabernet Franc (from the Loire) or even a Greek wine such as Xinomavro (‘ZEE-no-MAV-roe’ –means ‘acid-black’). For whites, go for Sauvignon Blanc, Vermentino, Verdicchio or Gavi from Italy.
What would you pair with Sweet and Sour Chicken?
Remember, this is a sweet dish with pineapple acids, fried chicken, and some green vegetable characteristics. All of these elements should be taken into account when picking a wine.
ANSWER: Riesling or another medium-sweet white wine with high acidity.
Specifically, I’d pick a German Spatlese Riesling for this dish and serve it quite cold so that it could also act as a palate cleanser. I think it’d be perfect with this dish because it would match the pineapple flavors. The onion and bell pepper in the dish would let the wine taste fruitier, like apricots, and bring out the complex beeswax-like nuances many German Rieslings have.
Sweet and sour is a complicated sauce to pair with most dry wines because the sweetness and acidity in the sauce makes most dry wines taste flat and tart. I bet this dish would be kickass with Moscato d’Asti.
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