Pairing wine with chicken


Photograph: Susie Carter

Photograph: Susie Carter

In our new series food writer Susie Carter takes a look at how to successfully pair wines with key ingredients. This month it’s the turn of the UK’s most-consumed meat: chicken.

The first time I really became aware of the nuances of food and wine matching was at a friend’s Chardonnay tasting. We compared six different bottles which varied greatly in style from a rather austere Chablis to a full-on Aussie blockbuster. Afterwards we enjoyed what was left of the bottles with roast chicken for lunch, a classic food pairing with chardonnay. While all of the wines worked successfully, the best match was a gently oaked Cote du Beaune. Malolactic fermentation and lees-stirring had given the wine a fuller body and buttery flavour which complemented the mouth-filling roast potatoes, while the fresh acidity and minerality from the relatively cool climate worked well with the lighter vegetable elements of the dish. In essence, it’s not just the chicken you’re matching, the other components in the dish are often more important.

In the summer months I’m rather partial to a chicken Caesar salad with plenty of crisp romaine lettuce and a dressing made pungent with Parmesan, garlic and salted anchovies. It’s that dressing that makes chilled Manzanilla Sherry an unusual but sensational pairing, with the salt in the food partnering the acidity and saline quality of the wine perfectly. The flor yeast that grows atop the sherry in the barrel feeds on the glycerine in the wine, resulting in a lighter body that perfectly matches the lightness of the poached chicken and leaves.

When the weather turns colder, I like to bake whole chicken thighs in a rich tomato sauce, made with the last of the season’s tomatoes:

• Fry a chopped onion and plenty of crushed garlic in a good glug of olive oil until soft, then deglaze with a splash of red wine.

• Skin and chop 2-3 large ripe tomatoes per person and add them to the pan, then cook for 15 minutes or until they start to break down into a thick sauce. You can throw in a handful of capers and a pinch of chilli flakes at this stage if you like, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

• Snuggle in 1-2 chicken thighs per person without submerging the skin, then transfer the pan to the oven and bake at 190⁰C / gas 5 for 35 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through to the bone and the juices run clear when pierced with a skewer.

• Serve with rosemary roast potatoes.

As well as being rich and full-flavoured, cooked tomatoes are high in acidity, an element that should be matched in the wine to keep both tasting their best. The Italians are masters of high-acid reds, which comes as no surprise when you consider the profusion of tomatoes in their cuisine. I would plump for a Barbera from Piemonte as you get high acidity but without the tannin of other varieties which could otherwise be over-emphasised if there’s a hint of sweetness to the tomatoes or the prickle of chilli in the sauce.

Read Susie’s first post on the basics of food and wine matching.