Expert-Recommended Wine Pairings For 4 Classic Chicken Dishes

When it comes to cooking for yourself or your loved ones, chicken is typically an easy route to take. With so many different ways to prepare chicken, there are countless ways to dress it up or down. For the nights when you're looking to kick things up a notch or two, you might even consider a wine pairing.

A good pairing uses complementary flavors to elevate the taste of both the food and the wine. "In general, when I look at a pairing with chicken, I immediately think of the classic Burgundian varietals of chardonnay and pinot noir," Nathan Grunow, wine director at Jovanina's Broken Italian told Mashed in an exclusive interview.

Thanks to the weather and soil quality in the Burgundy region of France, its chardonnays and pinot noirs are considered some of the best in the world. However, because the terrain has so much variance, there can be vast differences between the wines produced there. While the flavors of Burgundian wines can be a little much against the delicate taste of chicken breast, Grunow explains that once it has been prepared with varying degrees of salt and fat, it becomes easier to find a perfect pairing. Here are his pairing suggestions for four classic chicken dishes: chicken cordon bleu, chicken piccata, chicken parmigiana, and chicken Alfredo. 

The best wine to pair with chicken cordon bleu

"With a classic chicken preparation such as chicken cordon bleu ... I opt for a higher acid and tannic pinot noir," Nathan Grunow explains. When it comes to wine with cheese, you can either complement the flavors or contrast them . Chicken cordon bleu, stuffed with cheese and ham, is fatty, smokey, and practically begging to be paired with a contrasting wine that can cut through all that richness. "Wines from the Eola-Amity Hills appellation of Oregon's Willamette Valley always hit for me in this case," Grunow muses.

Specifically, Grunow references the hard-to-find pinot noir from Walter Scott's Justice Vineyard, explaining it has "big bursts of baking cherry and unsweetened pomegranate with some cedary notes and hints of white peppercorn," which make it the ideal pairing for chicken cordon bleu. If you can't track down that particular brand, or if the $80 price tag seems a little steep, Grunow notes, "Look for other wines from that same part of the Willamette, which yield more structural versions of pinot noir."‌

The best wine to pair with chicken piccata

"Chicken piccata is a fun and easy-to-make chicken dish," says Nathan Grunow, adding, "The key with pairing with a piccata is matching and complementing the zing and freshness of the lemon and caper that dominate the flavor of the sauce." In this case, a brightly flavored white draws out those deep citrusy and fermented flavors.

For chicken piccata, he says, "Steve Matthiasson's Linda Vista chardonnay hits all the right notes, with a subtle honeysuckle softness that leads to an extended fresh finish." However, if you can't find it at your local wine shop, Grunow also points out that there are plenty of worthy substitutions. "I would look for lightly (though not completely) unoaked chardonnays with minimal extraction that preserves the chardonnay's acidity," he says, adding, "Most white Burgundies would fit the bill, along [with] some of the Burgundy-inspired chardonnays produced in Piedmont — especially Pio Cesare's L'Altro."‌

The best wine to pair with chicken parmigiana

One of the quickest ways to elevate your favorite chicken parmesan recipe is with a killer wine pairing. However, because chicken parm has several flavorful components, there are a few things to remember. Particularly, Nathan Grunow says the flavor of the sauce and the thickness of the breading are important factors to consider. "All red sauces are not the same, though most remain racy and high acid," he says, adding, "The only warning I would give: The spicier the sauce, the more you want to pick a wine that's light on the tannin. Tannin in wine acts as a multiplier for spice."

For sauces that lean on the spicier side, Grunow says, "A Piemontese Barbera would almost always work. A Deltetto's Bramé Barbera d'Alba offers plenty of fresh red and unripe purple fruit that unfold into a big, brilliant, mouth-cleaning finish."

"For a more traditional light flavored red sauce," Grunow says, "I would go with a softer riserva Chianti." Ge recommends Caparsino from Villa Caparsa. "The natural acid of Sangiovese — while a bit muted from extra wood aging — still complements and adds depth to the flavor of the red sauce."‌

The best wine to pair with chicken Alfredo

"When looking at chicken Alfredo, the rich creaminess of these sauces is always the driving factor in a wine pairing," says Nathan Grunow. "Almost any medium-bodied, relatively unoaked white would work," he notes, adding, "Looking specifically for winemakers who work with stainless steel vessels to preserve the natural acidity of their white wines."

Thanks to a process called malolactic fermentation, many varietals have a buttery taste, which acts as one of oak-aged chardonnay's defining features. Pairing a buttery, oak-aged chardonnay with a creamy chicken Alfredo recipe may work to bog down both the dish and the wine. However, chardonnays aged in stainless steel tend to have more acidity, which works to brighten the creamy cheesiness of the Alfredo.

"We have been loving the work of winemakers on Mt. Etna whose brilliant fresh, volcanic soil, tinged white, make for very versatile wine pairings," says Grunow. "Currently, I am partial to Pietro Caciorgna's Guardoilvento, whose light to medium-bodied white has a brilliant lemon curd and unripe pear tension that leads to a zippy, sea breeze-tinged finish. If you can, look for Etna winemakers that favor higher percentages of the zippier carricante. You should be able to find great examples from Benanti and La Planeta, amongst others."