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Pairings with Chicken Are All Over the Map

Good guidance on what to drink with chicken can be hard to come by.



Of all the main pairings of wines with foods, suggestions of what to drink with chicken tend to vary most. Chardonnay is a common recommendation, but spend just five minutes looking for answers and you'll also encounter the following advice: champagne, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Viognier, Chenin Blanc, rosé, Pinot noir, Zinfandel, Shiraz, Grenache, Chianti, Valpolicella, Rhône reds, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Options are nice, but not when you want guidance. So in search of my own answer, I recently assembled five varietals for a backyard barbecue. We started with an extra dry Fantinel Prosecco ($12.99), which was a hit. Paul liked the citrus flavor and thought the wine would pair nicely with marinated chicken or seafood. Margie from Kansas City said it reminded her of the lemon groves of Amalfi. Barb, a lover of champagnes and sparkling wines, found it drier than she is used to but gradually warmed to the style. I liked it by itself yet thought it held up well to grilled chicken.

Second on our list was a 2008 Fetzer Valley Oaks Sauvignon Blanc ($6.99), about which there was little agreement. Barb loved it despite an earthy aroma she found a bit off-putting, and Paul thought its light oak notes and traditional finish were well-suited to drinking on a hot day. But Margie, Judy, and I were unimpressed, even when paired with chicken.

The 2008 Tré Monterey County Chardonnay ($9.95) was further proof of food's ability to change our perception of a wine. On its own, most of us found this too assertively oaky and buttery. But with chicken, quinoa, and an avocado salad, it was fabulous. I thought its peaty quality nicely complemented the food.

Appreciation for the 2008 Big House Pink ($7.99) from Livermore seemed to be divided by gender. Barb described this as the rare pink wine that actually tasted good outside a tasting room, and Judy liked both the wine and the ironic bottle design. Paul and I were profoundly unimpressed, although I have enjoyed my share of Big House White and Red over the years.

Merlots seldom make anyone's list of wines to pair with chicken, but by the time we got to the 2007 Blackstone Sonoma Reserve Merlot ($12.99), there wasn't much food left anyway. And that turns out to be a fine strategy for dealing with gift bottles that are too assertive for your chosen meal. Paul thought the Merlot would have overpowered grilled chicken but would have held up nicely to barbecued chicken or ribs. Margie, who was ready for something full-bodied by the time our meal was over, loved the wine, and Judy appreciated its heavy tannins. Barb said it was the cream of the crop — even if it didn't go with the chicken.

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