Don’t get me wrong, I love some wings and Yuengs (Yuengling). But sometimes I want the satisfaction of a Sunday funday wing buzz without all the unwanted beer bloat. That’s why I set out to pair my favorite chicken wing flavors with various wines, and I’m here to tell you how you can, too.
When it comes to pairing wings—whether buffalo, hot, or BBQ— usually the last thing to come to mind is wine. More often than not, game day grubbers will reach for the usual suspects: lagers, pilsners, and pale ales. Why? Because it tastes good, and perhaps more importantly, it’s what we’ve always been told. When’s the last time you stepped into a sports bar and overheard the bartender regaling patrons with riveting stories of his latest smokey-barbecue-and-California-Zinfandel coupling? Wine-and-wings may not be common, but it can be done. And guess what? It’s not that hard.
Bedford & Co. sommelier Sarah Tracey provides a few fundamentals to keep in mind when pairing wine with wings. Tracey says, “The key is creating balance in flavor and texture. The same rules apply, whether you’re working with caviar and foie gras, or a humble chicken wing.”
When asked why sweet wines like Gewürztraminer and Riesling are best paired with spicy wings, Sarah explained, “The natural sugars in [sweet] wine help to temper the heat. It also helps that most sweet wines are lower in alcohol. Sipping a high-alcohol wine with a spicy dish fans the flames and accentuates heat, so sticking to a sweeter, low-alcohol wine will help keep you from really ‘feeling the burn.’”
And when it comes to wing and red wine pairings, Sarah doesn’t shy away from the dark side. “Tannins are an amazing structurizer with anything that contains a good amount of fat.” She adds, “Since wings are dark meat, and also fried, a wine with a tannic structure can help cut through all of that richness. Don’t be afraid of a little tannin. If you enjoy a Nebbiolo or Cabernet Sauvignon that has tannin, give it a shot with your wings.”
For more wine and wing pairing suggestions, check out our go-to game day pairing guide below, and say goodbye to unwanted beer bloat.
Hot & Gewürztraminer
The sweetness of Gewürztraminer will help quell the heat.
Mild & Merlot
Merlot’s subtle tannins and supple fruit are a great match for mild heat.
BBQ & Zinfandel
Zin’s peppery jamminess goes great with sweet and smoky BBQ.
Jerk & Rosé
When it comes to subduing the lingering heat of a peppery jerk rub, it’s rosé all the way.
Crispy & Sparkling
A sparkling wine’s bright acidity and lively bubbles are exactly what you’ll need to cut through the rich, crispy skin of a deep fried drumstick.
Sriracha Honey & Chenin Blanc
The floral sweetness of Chenin Blanc will not only complement the notes of honey, it’ll cut through the spicy kick of Sriracha.
Lemon Pepper & Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc’s crisp acidity is a natural pairing with bright, lemony-peppery wings.
Garlic Parmesan & Pinot Grigio
The light, stone fruit flavors of Pinot Grigio pair well with the bite of garlic and punch of Parmesan.
Korean-style & Grüner Veltliner
Grüner Veltliner’s bright acidity is the perfect pairing for crispy Korean-style wings.
Honey BBQ & Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir’s subtle acid and earth serves as a nice counterpoint to the richness of honey BBQ.
Teriyaki & Garnacha
A light and zippy, fruit forward Spanish Garnacha pairs well with the sweet glaze of teriyaki.
Honey Mustard & Chardonnay
The sweet tang of honey mustard calls for a round Chardonnay with just a hint of oak.
Thai Chili & Riesling
Since Thai chilis are known to induce five-alarm mouth fires, sugary-sweet Riesling is the only way to go.
Marion Bernstein is a lifestyle writer for Bustle, InsideHook, and Time Out. Her work has also been featured in Brooklyn Magazine, Huffington Post, and Foodbeast.