Chicken wings are mainstays at house parties, bars, barbecues, brunches, Super Bowl festivities and even wedding receptions. While deep-frying chicken has southern roots in the U.S., 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 plates—and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that—there are some fantastic wine pairings for chicken wings, too. Whether you like them hot, sweet, spicy or barbecued, you can bet there’s a wine that will complement your favorite sauces.
Balance is key to pairing wine with Buffalo wings, which are offered in various heat levels from mild to medium to hot.
“The goal is to have a balancing act between the butter in the sauce and the body in the wine, sweet and spicy, topped off with some nice acidity to keep the palate refreshed,” says Jordan Lynn Traylor, a certified sommelier, chef and wine consultant.
“When butter and hot sauce are having a party, off-dry Riesling and Gewürztraminer are always on the guest list,” says Traylor. “These grapes are the perfect attendees because not only will 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 butter-based sauce.”
Vanessa Price, DWS, author of Big Macs & Burgundy: Wine Pairings for the Real World, and creative director and founder of The Vinum Collective, a lifestyle platform to help increase wine’s accessibility, recommends off-dry Chenin Blanc.
“The slight—not fully sweet!—sugar will soften the heat, the bright citrus will go tang for tang and the backbone of Chenin—acidity!—will wipe that buttery sauce clean, leaving your mouth ready for the next swig and bite,” says Price.
Deep fried and tossed in a sweet and spicy sriracha sauce, these wings tend to have savory, umami flavors. To stand up to that complexity, Price recommends a Mediterranean red like Minervois Rouge.
“The blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache offers supple texture and ripe fruit that will carry the sauces along without fighting or overpowering them, while the smoky, peppery notes will melt into the layered piquant flavors of both sauces,” she says.
Traylor recommends Viognier because she says acidity helps bring out the sauce’s flavors. “This style of wine often has notes of ginger and other spices often found in Thai cuisine and will sing harmoniously between bite and sip.”
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 in the wine helps to calm down the heat of the wings while the bubbles act like little palate cleansers for the next spicy bite.”
Whether it’s mustard- or vinegar-based, this regional-style sauce is so jam-packed with flavor, you’re going to need a wine that can hold its own.
“Barbecue is the holy grail of an amalgamation that requires a wine just as diverse,” says Price. “A rosato, also spelled rosado, offers that in spades. The hot pink styles at this end of the pink-drink spectrum have a body that is more medium to full, as opposed to the lighter styles of Provence, which is just what this hefty sauce needs to hold the line.”
Dubose also believes that rosé is the perfect complement to barbecue wings.
“It’s such a versatile and food-friendly style of wine and, depending on where in the world it’s coming from, there are plenty of options,” she says. “Bugey-Cerdon is a delicious option for a sweeter BBQ sauce. This light-bodied sparkling rosé from the Jura region in France complements the sweetness in the sauce perfectly.”
For those who prefer red wine with their barbecue, Dubose suggests a Gamay from Beaujolais. “This light- to medium-bodied wine that boasts red-fruit flavors is the perfect pairing option for BBQ wings, especially when it’s served with a slight chill.”
Lemon Pepper Wings
Made with a dry rub of ground pepper, lemon zest and other seasonings, these deep-fried favorites are a perfect foil for bubbles.
Dubose suggests a Blanc de Blancs Champagne. “Champagne and fried chicken are one of my favorite pairings,” she says, and notes that this specific pairing is “a match made in heaven. This style of Champagne rounds out the tanginess of the wings while the citrus flavors complement each other beautifully.”