When you’re looking for wines to match with chicken, you can be more adventurous than you’d believe. Red wine with chicken? That’s a big yes. But we’ll get to that later.
First, let’s get straight to the heart of the matter – the tried-and-true combination of one of the wine and food world’s great pairings: chicken and Chardonnay. With chicken dishes that highlight the natural sweetness and tenderness of the meat, like roast chicken, steamed chicken, grilled chicken breasts or chicken salads, you can’t go wrong with a Chardonnay.
Chicken and Chardonnay
But what kind of Chardonnay? That depends on the weight, texture and flavour of the chicken dish. For a rich roast chicken with crispy skin, gravy and roast vegetables, a good match is an oaked Chardonnay, with richer, butterscotch and toasty characters behind the natural peach, melon and tropical fruit.
For lighter, fresher dishes, try a lighter style Chardonnay made with little or no oak contact, which highlights the bright nectarine, white peach and citrus characters of the grape shine through.
Chicken and Pinot Gris
Another white with the right texture, weight and structure to bring the best out of chicken dishes is Pinot Gris, made in the richer, fruit-driven French style (rather than the leaner, crisper Italian-style Pinot Grigio). The wine’s characters of cooked spiced pears and honey makes a natural partner to chicken dishes.
If you are a fan of Italian-style Pinot Grigio, you’ll enjoy matching those wines with fresh, lightly-seasoned recipes such as cold chicken salad, poached chicken and avocado, or simply cold chicken with mayonnaise and steamed asparagus. The crisp, fresh pear and apple flavours in the wine will carry the delicacy and tenderness of the chicken beautifully.
Chicken dishes studded with mouth-numbing Szechuan pepper or eye-watering Thai chilli spice will need wines with enough fruit and acid to withstand the spice. Light, unoaked whites with plenty of pure fruit character like Riesling or Semillon are good choices. But the best choice is a white wine with a touch of sweetness, which creates a good balance with the heat of the spices. Gezurztraminer, Moscato, sweet-style Riesling all make harmonious wine matches for highly spiced dishes.
Chicken and Red Wine
Have you heard the rule “red wine with red meat, white wine with white meat”? When it comes to food and wine matching we love bending the rules! You’d be surprised at how many chicken dishes can sing with aromatic red wines. Try matching a French-style chicken braised in cream and white wine sauce with morel mushrooms with an elegant, light-bodied red wine like Pinot Noir or Tempranillo. The savoury, umami-like flavours of the morels give the dish enough weight and earthiness to match with the flavours of the red wine. You might even get away with a Grenache Shiraz Mataro (GSM), with elegant, spicy characters that won’t overpower the flavours of the chicken.
But for the ultimate red wine lover’s chicken and wine matching, a classic French coq au vin is a dish that will let the boldest, most flavoursome red wines shine. Cooked in a red wine sauce (preferably the same varietal, if not the same wine you’ll be drinking with the dish) with whole baby onions (shallots), bacon or speck, this is a dish that loves red wines. When cooked over enough time to let the flavours and colour of the wine infuse the meat, you’ll end up with a rich, tender, hearty casserole.
Pair coq au vin with your favourite red wine, Shiraz, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Barbera or a GSM blend. You might also find it works well with Cabernet Sauvignon, but some may be too structured and tannic for the chicken. But by all means experiment when it comes to matching wines with your favourite chicken dishes.
Just remember to try and match the weight and texture of the food to the weight and texture of the wine. Whether it’s white wine or red wine is entirely up to you and your palate.