Pairing chicken with wine
The trick here is to choose a wine that works well with the flavours in the dish. Are you making a spicy Thai curry? Then you could go for the Panorámico White Rioja, with the lychee and citrus flavours acting as a refreshing hit between mouthfuls of spice. Are you roasting a whole chicken and serving it with a rich sauce? A medium bodied red, like the Fontaine du Clos Côtes du Rhone, would work wonders as a partner. But then again, so could a full-bodied oaked chardonnay like my current favourite, Spell from California.
Pick out the little nuances in your cooking that make it stand out – that is the key. Are you grilling over charcoal or wood for instance? Smoke will be one of the over-riding flavours, not necessarily the chicken itself. Does your sauce contain a lot of sweetness from tomatoes, peppers or sherry? That is what you’ll need to work with to help you choose a wine that pairs well.
But it doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t have to know all the grape varieties or the many different styles of wine. You definitely don’t have to memorise all the best producers. Do as the French do.
Chicken has always been a foil for big, bold flavours. When I was studying as an apprentice at catering college we had to learn, front to back, the classic French dishes of “Le Rèpertoire de la Cuisine”. The biggest section was that of La Poulet.
The French have been braising, grilling, spatchcocking, crapaudining, steaming, poaching and roasting these little birds in all manners since they first appeared on European shores thousands of years ago. Even in a relatively small country like France, the regional variation is vast; neighbours who live a few miles apart cook very different chicken dishes. Some cooks will favour calvados and cream as a sauce while others will prefer a big splash of Vin Jaune. Some chefs will only ever use Armagnac to deglaze where others wouldn’t dream of preparing a “Coq au Vin” with anything other than a Burgundian Pinot. What brings all these cooks together is their passion for local, regional and ‘known’ flavours. By ‘known’, I mean a taste palate that has been learnt over many years. A memory of flavours of ‘how it should be’, taught by grandmothers and parents through the generations. It is also definitely a case of “what grows together, goes together”.
Cooking and wine are both very subjective and relative to who you are and where you come from.
That brings us back to my main point about pairing wine with chicken. Wine is an incredibly subjective thing. Tasting and the ability to taste are, in fact, different for everybody. We all live in completely different “tasting universes”. So, the important thing, in my opinion, is to just always drink what you like. You’ll be surprised to find that a lot of different styles of wine will pair perfectly with any given chicken dish you decide to cook.
Below are a few tips to guide you along in the right direction if you’re stuck:
1. If your sauce, dressing or seasoning is very fatty, like a cream or olive oil-based sauce, then you’ll want a wine that is high in acidity and also dry. But make sure the wine has enough body to not ‘disappear’ during dinner. Try the Remhoogte First Light Chenin.
2. If your dish is spicy and/or heavy on chilli or pepper, then maybe head to the world of aromatic dry or off-dry whites or sparklers. Try the Hawkshead Pinot Gris.
3. If you’re cooking with wine, then drink the same wine! The Burgundian coq-au-vin is a prime example. If the stew is flavoured with Pinot Noir or with a Burgundy Chardonnay, then there isn’t a wine in the world that would be a better partner. Make sure you cook with a quality product, and drink the same. It all just seems to make sense, to both mind and palate. Try Jérémy Recchione Côtes de Nuits Red Burgundy.
4. If in doubt, go for English Sparkling. This is my new rule for life. English sparkling wines have a tendency to be high in acidity and have a palate-cleansing freshness that is helped by the bubbles. Most chicken dishes would go perfectly with this kind of fizz. Imagine the crispy, golden, fatty skin of a perfectly pan-roasted chicken thigh… what does your ‘taste memory’ crave with that flavour and texture? Something acidic and fresh, I bet.
You’re often faced with 3 different styles when you’re looking at English sparkling wine.
The first one being full of orchard fruit flavours. Very bubbly and refreshing. Like the Tickerage 2013 Classic Cuvée. A burst of green and red apple, and all the better for it. Perfect with barbequed chicken. The second style is closer to a traditional champagne flavour – maybe some dairy and yeasty notes. This richer, rounder wine is an amazing partner for a traditional roast chicken or chicken pie – If you can get your hands on something special like the Wiston Estate Blanc de Blanc or the Nyetimber Tillington, you’re opening a wine with great ripeness too –bags of hedgerow fruit, citrus and English summer berries in there, as well as all the orchard flavours. This is a wine to open for that special occasion chicken dish. The ‘date-night chicken stroganoff’ wine. A third style is one that offers a little more sweetness, like Nyetimber’s Cuvée Cherie. An amazing wine to partner with a fatty chicken liver terrine. And once popped and sipped alongside a coconut milk-based Thai dish that has a little sweetness from the tamarind, you may never go back to craving a beer with your curry again.
Most importantly of all, don’t fret. You can get so bogged down with what wine technically goes best with each of your dishes that your will easily ruin the whole eating and drinking experience. Leave that stress to the somms.
Just cook what you love to eat, and drink what you love to drink. You’ll end up much happier that way. Good food and great wines are enhanced by enjoyment and happiness. Happy cooking!
This a guest post by Sven Britt
Sven is the owner of Oxeye, a restaurant celebrating farm to fork cooking alongside the very best of the wines from the U.K. He is the current MasterChef the Professionals: The Rematch champion and chef ambassador for Miele GB.
@svenhansonchef (insta) | @svenhansonbritt (twitter)