Today marks the beginning of a new relationship we’re building here with Ask.com, the top Q & A search engine in the world. Moving forward, the good folks on the Ask.com team will be sending me over their top wine-related questions every two weeks, and I’ll not only post their answers, but often elaborate on them myself. The benefits of this are potentially significant: By teaming up, we’ll be harnessing Ask.com’s ability to divine what specific issues are on the minds of millions of wine lovers, and using our expertise to provide answers that will go into as much depth as possible.
In the beginning, I’ll post specifically chosen questions and answers every other Monday or Tuesday--in the form of written blogs, of course, but occasional videos, too, where they’ll help. I’ll also choose which of the top questions to elaborate on based on what’s happening in the non-wine world. Today, for example, though the team has sent me over the top 10 wine questions inquired about wine on Ask.com, I’ll be focusing on #6--what wine goes best with chicken?--because of the time of year: Passover started last night and Easter is next Sunday, and with the amount of food consumed at meals marking both of these holidays, it seems appropriate to focus on this food-and-wine pairing question before moving on.
What kind of wine does go with chicken? This is one of the great mysteries of the wine world, one that I’m personally asked about at least five times a week. Ask.com’s answer is a great place to start: “A chardonnay or pinot blanc are traditional, but we’re of the belief that you should drink what you like!”
The first thing we should address is the last part of that answer, because it is the key to wine happiness: Drink what you like. The big mistake that most people make is obsessing over their food-and-wine pairings so much that all the joy is taken out of it. So, please--we beg you: Drink what you like, eat what you like, and we promise the world will be a happier place for you when you’re done. This is about pleasure, after all, not pressure. The old line is important to remember: If you like the wine, then it’s a good wine. Don’t let scores or so-called pairing rules get in the way of your enjoyment.
That having been said, though, you can take things a bit further in the pairing department. Because as all wine lovers know, a great food-and-wine pairing can make both taste a million times better than they otherwise would have on their own.
Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc are good wines to start with: They’re produced in a wide enough range of styles to cover most of your chicken needs. But they are not your only options. One of the reasons that chicken perplexes so many people when it comes to pairing, after all, is that the meat itself tends to play a background role to its seasoning, accompanying sauce, and cooking method. In that regard, chicken is a bit of a chameleon (wrap your mind around that one!), which makes pairing wines with it both exciting and--let’s be honest here--nerve-wracking.
But it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few simple tricks to get you started on the road to becoming a Master Chicken Pairer (which is a completely made-up title, by the way).
Ask yourself how the chicken is cooked. Roasting a chicken will tend to bring out both its richer and its sweeter flavors, which would seem to reward a great Chardonnay, like an '07 Meursault. Grilling it, on the other hand, with all the smoke and charring, requires a wine with a bit more acid--say, a Northern Italian Pinot Bianco. Then there’s the best pairing of all: Fried chicken and Champagne. I know it sounds strange, but this is honestly one of the greatest combinations you can ever experience: The nuttiness of the fried crust is echoed by the nuttiness of the bubbly, the oil and fat from the frying is cut by the high acid of the Champagne, and any grease left on your tongue is scrubbed right off by the bubbles. Trust us: This pairing is a life-changer!
Consider the sauce. Chicken stir-fry with a lot of soy sauce calls for Champagne again, or even Prosecco or Cava, whereas tomato sauce-based chicken cacciatore or chicken parmesan are perfect with Italian reds like Dolcetto and Barbera. In all three of these cases, the chicken, really, isn’t the focal-point; the sauce is. Pair accordingly.
How is it seasoned? Because most chicken doesn’t have a whole lot of aggressive flavor on its own, the way it’s seasoned often defines the characteristics you have to work with in terms of wine pairing. The gorgeous perfume and gentle spice-heat of a chicken pad thai, for example, mean that Riesling or Guwurztraminer are in order. On the other hand, the more delicate lemon notes of, say, chicken piccata, sing alongside a crisp Pinot Grigio.
Of course, your best bet isn’t to obsess over the single perfect pairing. Why limit yourself? Come up with a handful of pairing possibilities, pop the corks on two or three bottles that you think might work well, and see which ones you like most. This is, after all, supposed to be fun. And for me, at least, nothing says fun like multiple open bottles of wine on the table, sharing them with friends, family...and, in this case, a great chicken dish.