Yes, You Can Pair Chicken and Wine

chicjkenChicken.

It’s the meat that gets no respect.

It’s considered the “cheap” choice on restaurant menus, and the boring, cook-it-when-you-can’t-think-of-anything-better dinner choice.

But add some sauce and spice, pair it with the right bottle of wine, and you’ve got a great meal.

So invariably people ask me, “Which wine should I serve with chicken?” And I have to say… “It depends.”

“Oh, right,” you say. “I knew it couldn’t be simple.”

But is. Because there’s really only one Tried and True Rule of Food and Wine Pairing.

Before I unveil this Guiding Principle, let me walk you through a little case study. Let’s say you’re cooking Chicken Parmesan, with a rich Marinara Sauce and some melted cheese. What’s the dominant flavor? What stands out in your mouth? Is it the taste of the chicken breast, or the taste of the tomato sauce?

And if you cook an elegant Chicken Piccata, drizzled with Lemon Butter Caper Sauce, what do you taste? You taste the lemons and capers, if you cook it the way I do.

So the dominant flavor of any dish is the sauce or the spicing, not the base meat or vegetable.

Aha! Now you see where I’m going. If someone asks, “Which wine should I pair with chicken,” I ask, “How are you preparing it?” If they say, “With Parmesan Sauce,” I go for a red: maybe a lighter Italian red such as Barbera or a Toscano blend; maybe a Spanish Tempranillo or Garnacha; maybe a Malbec from Argentina. The point is that I want to drink a red to complement the tomato sauce, and especially a red with some acid to match the acid in the tomatoes.

That’s not too complicated, right?

So let’s do the Picatta Chicken. I want a wine that can stand up to tart lemon and tangy capers, so I’ll go with a crisp, dry white. I don’t want an oak-aged wine like Chardonnay, because it won’t set off the lemon. I think I’d like a Sauvignon Blanc, or a European white. How about a Pinot Grigio? Or how about a dry Greek white? Greek cooking uses a lot of lemons, so we know it’ll work.

It’s that simple.

Almost.

There are other considerations, and rules of thumb that folks have discovered by trial and error. But it’s not rocket science. Say, what wine do you think they should drink on rocket ships? We’ll talk about that next time. Cheers!

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