Pairing Wings and Wines

With a little thought, and some help from our list of recommended wines, a classic Super Bowl snack can take flight
Jan 30, 2008

OK, let's get the usual disclaimer out of the way right up front: we know that for most people, Super Bowl Sunday is all about the beer. But we are not most people. This weekend, although we'll be eating the kind of greasy, salty snacks that require no utensils, we want to drink wine while we watch the New York Giants face the undefeated New England Patriots (whose fans are apparently Wine Spectator readers). And if you're reading this, it's a safe bet that that you want that, too.

So, what to drink with your Super Bowl food? For the second year in a row, the editorial team set out to find some wines that will work reasonably well with typical game-day fare. While in 2007 we focused on a wide range of foods, this year we searched for wines to complement chicken wings, because, simply put, they're a classic football food. We tried six wines—a Champagne, two Rieslings, a Chardonnay, a red Burgundy and a Zinfandel—with maple barbecue-glazed wings and hot and spicy Buffalo wings, the kind commonly served in bars with celery sticks and blue cheese. Though there were a few clunkers, most of the wines held their own against the chicken snacks. Read on for the full results, and make sure to check out our recommended wines below.


We started with Pommery Brut Champagne Apanage NV, a gentle yet crisp sparkler. The wine was a reasonably good match with the barbecue wings, with the sweetness of the sauce unaffected by the dryness of the wine, though as associate editor Robert Taylor pointed out, "I suspect a sweeter sparkler would be even more successful." Some members of the panel also noted a slightly awkward bitter or smoky note in the barbecue and sparkling combination. The wine made a thoroughly successful combination with the spicy wings, each component holding its own against the other, and the wine performing a refreshing, palate-deglazing function against the hot, acidic sauce. Bottom line: A dry, non-vintage wine works well for the spicy wings; those seeking a perfect match for barbecue sauce may want to seek out a semi-dry sparkler.


Next up was François Baur Riesling Alsace Grand Cru Clos de la Treille 2005, an aromatic dry Riesling with vanilla, citrus and apricot flavors. The results were mixed for both wing pairings, diverging on matters of personal taste. News editor Eric Arnold found that the flavor and texture of the wine became watery in the face of the barbecue wings, though assistant managing editor Joe Meyerson and your author both thought the fruity wine and the sweet barbecue sauce made an exciting synergistic combination. The Riesling cut through the spiciness of the hot wing in a way that Arnold found "pleasing" but to Meyerson was "simply unpleasant." Bottom line: Though it will please some people, dry Riesling is a risky proposition with chicken wings.


We moved on to Dr. H. Thanisch (VDP) Riesling Kabinett Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Berncasteler Doctor 2006, a piquant off-dry Riesling with refreshing peach, lime and mineral notes. Of all the wines we tried, this one "keeps its flavor best with both types of wings," remarked Meyerson. Arnold agreed, finding it "killer with both wings." Bottom line: Off-dry Riesling is the top option if you want to serve white wine.


Having passed the halfway mark, it was time for a Chardonnay; specifically, 2005 Familia Rutini Chardonnay Mendoza Felipe Rutini, a Mendoza wine with apple, pear and butter notes and a round, creamy finish. The panel unanimously rejected the pairing of the barbecue wing and the wine, for the way that the wine washed out the flavor of the sauce and left what Meyerson called "an awkward, odd-textured experience" in its place. The wine also did no favors to the hot wing, though the flavors in the wine fought back on the long finish. Bottom line: Skip the Chardonnay on game day.


The first of the tasting's two reds was Bouchard Père & Fils Beaune 1er Cru du Château 2004, a Burgundy with an herbal nose and cherry jam flavors. We agreed that the barbecue wing and the wine did a fairly good, if uninspiring, balancing act, each allowing the other to showcase its strengths. The hot wing and Pinot Noir combination, however, was a dud. Arnold found the pairing "off balance," Meyerson thought that "the sauce makes the wine seem awfully flabby," and Taylor threw down the gauntlet with a succinct, "Nasty." Bottom line: A decent match for the barbecue, less ideal for hot wings.


The final wine of the experiment was Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County 2005, which shows nice red fruit aromas and ripe tannins. The Zin proved a great match for the barbecue wing. "It has enough sweet fruit to balance the sweet barbecue sauce," said managing editor Dana Nigro, and Arnold agreed, adding, "It does what the Pinot tried to do and more." The Zinfandel made a good match with the spicy wing as well, holding up nicely in the face of the heat and acidity of the sauce, but it was the barbecue wing that seemed made for the Zin. Bottom line: A good pick for either variety of wing.

If you'd like to make your own chicken wing matches, check our our recommended wines below—and have a great Super Bowl Sunday, no matter which team you're pulling for.

Wine Score Price
MONTAUDON Brut Champagne NV 90 $35
A full-bodied bubbly, featuring graphite, honey, apricot and toasted brioche flavors. On the dry side, this is well-balanced and lively, with a crisp, mouthwatering finish. Drink now through 2010. Tasted twice, with consistent notes. 100,000 cases made.—B.S.
DE LOACH Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2006 89 $20
Rich and assertive, with intense, well-centered blackberry and raspberry fruit that has a pleasant floral and spicy air about it. Ends with clean, snappy acidity and tannins. Drink now through 2011. Tasted twice, with consistent notes. 17,000 cases made.—J.L.
JANISSON & FILS Brut Champagne François de Rozay NV 89 $28
Toast, pencil shavings, apple and lemon flavors highlight this dry Champagne, which is concentrated, with a creamy texture midpalate before the lean finish kicks in. Drink now through 2010. 40,000 cases made.—B.S.
A TO Z WINEWORKS Pinot Noir Oregon 2006 88 $20
Light and fragrant, with pretty blackberry and currant fruit shaded with a crisp hint of white pepper, lingering gently. Drink now through 2009. 51,000 cases made.—H.S.
ROSENBLUM Zinfandel Lake County Snows Lake Vineyard 2005 88 $35
Fresh, briary blackberry and spice aromas lead to jammy, rustic black cherry, plum and charred anise flavors, with a tannic finish. Drink now. 4,100 cases made.—T.F.
FOUR VINES Zinfandel California Old Vine Cuvee 2005 87 $14
Ripe and jammy, with appealing pepper and raspberry aromas and supple flavors that take on length and firm tannins on the finish. Drink now. 20,000 cases made.—T.F.
DR. H. THANISCH (VDP) Riesling Kabinett Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Bernkasteler Badstube 2006 86 $25
Orange, apricot and spice notes feature prominently in this opulent Riesling. Lively, with a moderately long finish, yet there's also a woolly accent. Drink now through 2015. 4,000 cases made.—B.S.

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