Saucy Chicken Wings are a mainstay at house parties, bars, barbecues, potlucks, Super Bowl festivities, and even wedding receptions. While frying chicken has southern roots in the US, coating chicken wings in a spicy butter sauce was reportedly invented in 1964 at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York.
While some like to enjoy a cold beer with their wings, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, there are also some fantastic wine pairings. Whether you like them hot, sweet, spicy, or grilled, you can bet there’s a wine that will complement your favorite sauces.
Balance is key when pairing the wine with Buffalo Chicken Wings, which are offered in various heat levels, from mild to medium and hot.
“The goal is to have a balancing act between butter in the sauce and body in the wine, sweet and spicy, topped off with good acidity to keep the palate fresh,” says Jordan Lynn Traylor, certified sommelier, chef and consultant at wines
“When butter and hot sauce have a party, dry Riesling and Gewürztraminer are always on the guest list,” says Traylor. “These grapes are the perfect helpers because not only does the hint of sweetness in the wine cool off the heat and spiciness, but they also have enough body and va-va-voom to stand up to this buttery sauce.”
Vanessa Price, DWS, author of Big Macs and Burgundy: Wine Pairing for the Real World, and the creative director and founder of The Vinum Collective, a lifestyle platform to help increase the accessibility of wine, recommends the dry Chenin Blanc.
“Mild sugar, not quite sweet!, will mellow the heat, bright citrus will turn pungent, and Chenin’s backbone, acidity! It will wash away that buttery sauce, leaving your mouth ready for the next sip and bite. says Price.
Fried and tossed with a sweet and tangy sriracha sauce, these wings tend to have savory and umami flavors. To deal with that complexity, Price recommends a Mediterranean red like Minervois Rouge.
“The blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache offers a smooth texture and ripe fruit that will accompany sauces without fighting or overpowering them, while smoky and peppery notes meld into the layered peppery flavors of both sauces,” he says.
Traylor recommends Viognier because he says the acidity helps bring out the flavors of the sauce. “This style of wine often has notes of ginger and other spices often found in Thai cuisine and will sing harmoniously between bites and sips.”
Bubbles work too, says Larissa Dubose, CSW, founder of The Lotus & the Vines, a wine education platform. “Brachetto d’Acqui and [sweet and spicy sriracha wings] make a fun pairing. The sweetness of the wine helps calm the heat of the wings, while the bubbles act as little palate cleansers for the next spicy bite.”
Whether mustard-based or vinegar-based, this regional-style sauce is so packed with flavor, it’s going to need a wine to stand on its own.
“Barbecue is the holy grail of a fusion that requires an equally diverse wine,” says Price. “A rosato, also spelled rosé, offers that in abundance. Hot pink styles at this end of the pink beverage spectrum have a body that is more medium to full, as opposed to the lighter styles of Provence, which is just what this strong sauce needs to hold the line.”
Dubose also thinks rosé is the perfect complement to BBQ wings.
“It’s a very versatile and food-friendly style of wine, and depending on where in the world it’s from, there are a lot of options,” he says. “Bugey-Cerdon is a delicious option for a sweeter BBQ sauce. This light-bodied sparkling rosé from the Jura region of France perfectly complements the sweetness of the sauce.”
For those who prefer red wine with their barbecue, Dubose suggests a Gamay de Beaujolais. “This light to medium bodied wine featuring red fruit flavors is the perfect choice to pair with BBQ wings, especially when served with a slight shiver.”
Lemon Pepper Wings
Made with a dry twist of cracked pepper, lemon zest, and other seasonings, these fried favorites are a perfect complement to bubbles.
Dubose suggests a Blanc de Blancs champagne. “Champagne and fried chicken is one of my favorite combinations,” he says, noting that this specific combination is “a perfect match. This style of champagne rounds out the tartness of the wings, while the citrus flavors complement each other beautifully.”