When it comes time to watch the big game, the snacks are almost as much an event as, well, the actual event! Nothing beats a hot plate of wings when game day rolls around. Between the crisp skin, the tangy sauce and the succulent meat, chicken wings are hands-down one of life’s great pleasures.
But a lot is happening flavor-wise — especially with Buffalo wings — and that makes it hard to figure out what to serve them with. Sure, you can do ranch or blue cheese, but what’s the best beverage? Wings are the perfect companion to an ice-cold beer and makes for a quintessential combo whether its mid-season Monday night football or Super Bowl Sunday itself.
But what if you’re more of a wine guy or gal? What’s a wing-lovin’ wine-drinker to do? Well, as it turns out, you’ve got your fair share of options. There’s just a few things you’ll need to consider when selecting your pairings. Keep on reading and we’ll show you some tips for pairing chicken wings and wine.
Wine Basics: Understand the Flavors Before You Get Pairing
In order to understand how to pair the right wine with the right wing, you need to know a little about which wines go with which flavors. Right now, we’re talking in a very general sense about wines that go with spicy, savory and sweet flavors. Here’s a look at some of the more popular wines that can go with your favorite wings and make the flavors really sing:
- Riesling: A sweet wine with a mineral quality, Riesling features a crisp blend of fruity notes like peach, pear and apple. It’s high in acidity and helps cut through foods with a higher fat content as well as those that pack a spicy punch.
- Sauvignon Blanc: A sweet-ish white wine with notes of the full fruit spectrum mixed in, a Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect foil to a spicy set of wings. Flavors like pineapple, peach, green apple and citrus cut through the fat and the heat, providing balance to the palate. It’s the perfect sip of freshness to punctuate each spice-laden bite.
- Champagne: An off-dry Champagne or sparkling wine can be a beautiful thing when served up with the contrasting flavor of hot and buttery chicken wings. The chilled wine with its effervescence is perfect with the fat content of the wings and helps relieve some of the heat for those who find the spice a little overpowering.
- Rose: Rose is a wine with a reputation for being served along with poached eggs, waffles and anything brunchy. But this daytime wine also works with buffalo wings or anything with a little kick. Whether you’re going with a dry version that cuts through the heat or something a little more fruit-forward, Rose is a surprisingly versatile companion to your game-day spread.
- Malbec: Malbec is a versatile red wine that pairs well with dark poultry as well as meats like pork and lamb. This wine features notes of chocolate, tobacco and oak as well as cherry, plum, blackberry and violet. Malbec works well with the fat content in wings — particularly those without sauce — as the stronger fruit flavors really get to stand out.
- Zinfandel: A light-bodied red with a bold punch, this wine is low in tannin content, which makes it a perfect match for spicier wing flavors. Though Zin has a relatively high alcohol content, you’re mostly going to get a sweet, earthy taste with a hint of unique notes like cayenne pepper or tobacco. Zins go really well with things like pork or lamb as well as the darker parts of the bird, making them a natural (yes, really!) choice for wing night.
- Chardonnay: Chardonnay is all about the oak — plus hints of vanilla and some fruitier highlights like lemon, melon and even grass. While grass isn’t exactly a fruit, these bright notes, punctuated by buttery oak, bring a lot to the table when it comes to wine pairings. Chardonnay helps cut through the fat with brighter spots while complementing some of the features you’ll find in a buffalo sauce.
- Pinot Noir: Pinot Noir is a lighter-bodied red wine, but this guy packs a tannic punch. So keep things on the mild side — hello, plain wings! — if you’re planning on pairing. Pinot brings a mix of earthen flavors to the table — mushroom, tobacco, barnyard (stay with us) — as well as a fruits like cherry, strawberry and raspberry. Top it all off with some notes of violet and rose petal and you’ve got a complex red that works super well with the dark side of poultry.
- Beaujolais: Another light-bodied red, Beaujolais is a really versatile wine. It works with myriad foods due to its low tannin count and light, fruity notes. Beaujolais has, for whatever reason, fallen out of fashion as of late, but it’s an easy-to-drink wine that’ll complement your buffalo wings and your sauce-less wings alike. Shake off your ‘80s notions of this bottle and give it a new lease on life!
- Tempranillo: A popular Spanish red wine, Tempranillo is a really nice companion to chicken, turkey and the whole range of poultry. This wine boasts notes of vanilla, oak and a whole lot of cherry. While this wine might not be the best choice when it comes to finding a partner for buffalo wings and their peppery, buttery, hot sauce-y mélange of flavors, this wine makes perfect sense with a plate of undressed wings and can complement barbecue sauce if you’re in the market for something bold.
- Cabernet Sauvignon: A full-bodied red wine may not seem to belong on this list. However, it can work pretty darn well with a plate of delicious wings coated in a sweeter barbecue sauce. Its dark fruit flavors and notes of black pepper, vanilla, currant and, some say, bell pepper, bring a delightful blend of flavors into the fold. Skip the Cabernet if you’re going exclusively with buffalo wings, though. The strong mix of flavors coming from both the food and the drink may prove to be too much.
Look — we do realize that sommeliers do a great deal of training to gain knowledge on this stuff, but it’s not out of reach. Get these basic flavor profiles down and you’ll have a better understanding of which wines you should buy if you’re the one purchasing game-day refreshments.
Types of Wings
At Giordano’s, we serve up a few different types of wing platters: buffalo, barbecue and plain. While all come with the same base of darker meat, you’ll have the option of going boneless or bone-in and dipping with ranch or eating as-is. While we generally specialize in pizza, we do know a thing or two about beverages — particularly which ones make our wings truly sing.
Below, we’ll take a look at which wings go with which wines. Hint: it has more to do with the sauce than anything else!
Buffalo sauce is more complicated than one might imagine. The sauce itself is a little buttery. Mildly tangy with a hint of hot. Oh yeah, and it’s also a touch salty. So, while you’re getting the full treatment when it comes to flavors, it can be tricky to add an additional element into the mix.
Drinks that are overly alcoholic may overpower the wings and give the palate more bitterness than it might like, while something too sweet can be just a little much for those without a sweet tooth.
Wine might not be your first choice when it comes to hot wing accompaniments, but the added dairy in the sauce helps keep some of the more intense spices at bay, making it more wine-friendly than a dairy-free hot wing.
Slightly sweet white wines complement buffalo wings the best. Think Champagne, Moscato D’asti or a Riesling. The fruity flavors and the low level of tannins really work with the buttery spice. If you’re feeling a little more creative, fruity reds like a Beaujolais or a Zinfandel can really make those wings fly off the platter.
Good old barbecue sauce! Smoky flavors combined with sweetness and fat can make these wings a challenge for wines. Our advice? Look for a lighter, off-dry sipper to balance things out. We’re thinking Rose or Champagne for a “classic” barbecue taste or a Chardonnay for a real smoky set of wings.
Additionally, a red Zinfandel or a Malbec can also work well with the smoky flavors and darker meat, as can Tempranillo, which plays well with those same flavors. And because barbecue sauce is just that versatile, you’ll likely be happy sipping a Cabernet Sauvignon along with those wings, too.
Plain Chicken Wings
Hey, some people prefer their wings undressed! We get it — why cover up all that delicious meat? Chicken wings lean toward the dark side when it comes to meat, so your flavor here is going to be a bit richer than your average chicken breast. These guys are really versatile, so Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc work really well here as do lighter reds like Pinot Noir or Zinfandel.
The Old Poultry and Whites Rule
As a general rule, you’ve probably heard the prevailing wisdom that white wines go best with chicken or fish while a big juicy steak’s ideal partner is a full-bodied red. Now that’s a great starting point, but not the be-all and end-all of what to drink with your animal proteins.
With chicken, there’s the dark meat versus the light meat. The white meat does work really well with white wines like Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. Darker meat from the wings, thighs and legs, on the other hand, have the ability to stand up to medium-bodied reds like Pinot Noir or Zinfandel.
The question, “What wine goes with chicken?” seems super straightforward. However, there’s so much variation within the bird itself even before you start adding sauces. And just because a wine is the “standard” doesn’t mean it’s always the most exciting pairing.
That said, Chardonnays pair really well with chicken in a creamy sauce. So, if you’re eating wings dipped in a ranch sauce or a cheesy dip, this oaky wine may be a good choice. Sauvignon Blanc, on the other hand, comes with more herbal and fruity notes, so this white wine may be better served with roasted herb chicken but not so much hot wings.
With dark meat, as we’ve mentioned, you’ll do well with medium reds, but also something sweet like a Riesling, which can cut through the fattier quality of the meat. Opposites attract after all!
So, when you get down to chicken wings served on a platter with celery, ranch and a heaping side of sports, it all comes down to the sauce. Wing sauce generally falls into one of two categories: it’s either sweet or it’s spicy. And chances are good that if you’re ordering apps for a special occasion, you’ll have both.
Both sweet and spicy flavor profiles can be difficult to pair with wines. As with many varietals, you’ll get too many overpowering flavors. The key here is to create balance. The issue with spicy foods is that they’ll enhance the tongue’s ability to taste the alcohol as well as the tannins present in red wine. Unless you like the taste of bitterness and no real reprieve from the spice factor, you’ll want to drink something else with ultra-spicy wings.
A spicy batch of wings is best served with a sweet white wine. Skip the reds if you’re going spicy — though in all honesty, most wings have at least some level of kick to them. Champagne, Rose or Lambrusco work well with fried chicken, so these might be good choices depending on the flavor of your sauce.
On the sweeter side, you’ll want to pick a wine that matches the sweetness of the sauce or is even sweeter. Most wines are dry and, consequently, won’t complement your sweet teriyaki wings. Seek out fruit flavors, sparkling wines or even a sweeter red like a Malbec.
Wings? Check. Pizza? We’ve Got It. Just Call Giordano’s to Feed the Whole Team
Between the Beaujolais and the Chardonnay, we hope you’ve got some inspiration for game day wines that can compete with the bold flavor of wings. As you can see, there’s more to watching sports than drinking a cold one and settling in. Sometimes the perfect beverage is served at room temperature after it’s been aerated for a few minutes.
You know what else goes great with wings? Pizza! Giordano’s has an expansive selection of world-famous pizzas, both deep dish and regular, with unique toppings and classic parlor offerings alike. If you’re on the hook for throwing a game day bash or just want to stay in with some wings and wine, give us a call. Maybe pairing chicken with wine isn’t such a crazy idea after all!