Champagne: Michel Gonet Prestige Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2004 – Pairing Rating: 9.0 out of 10.0
Beer: Negra Modelo – Pairing Rating: 9.0
Not healthy . . . but healthier. How so? Simple. Remove the skin. OK, not so simple. In fact, it takes a lot of time. But our boys love their chicken wings, and this is the only way Trish will allow it to happen on her watch.
Since most of the fat in chicken wings lies directly under the skin, removal is the best path to “healthier” wings. Is it time consuming? You bet. Does it diminish the crispiness of the finished product? Only modestly. Remember, the spicy butter sauce that bathes all Buffalo wings softens the exterior – whether the skin is on or off. So the wise choice is to skin them.
Trish deep-fries the wings in Canola or Safflower oil, and then tosses them in a blend of melted butter and Louisiana Hot Sauce. Usually a 50/50 blend, but on this night, she made two sauces: one a little milder, one a little hotter. And that action set the pairing in motion: should it be beer or Champagne?
I felt the pairing had to be effervesant because the butter and the hot sauce demanded that the palate be cleansed and refreshed periodically. But which one did the better job? The amber Negra Modelo is medium-bodied and creamy, and it delivers a subtle level of sweetness. It stood up smartly to the spicier wings providing just the right amount of refreshment and fire-quenching relief. But with the milder wings, it was overbearing; what sommeliers call “covering” – where the beer (or wine) dominates and masks the flavors of the dish. A mortal sin in the wine-pairing world.
The Champagne, Michel Gonet Prestige Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2004 ($70), was perfect with the milder wings, providing just the right amount of weight, acidity and minerality without “covering” them. Domaine Michel Gonet is a Chardonnay specialist with 40 hectares (100 acres) of Grand Cru vineyards in Côte des Blancs located in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and Avize, villages in the Champagne region. The flavors reminded me of grilled bread, vanilla and dried stone fruit. If you can’t locate the Gonet, ask your wine retailer for a Champagne where Chardonnay dominates the blend; I believe that to be a superior pairing over a Pinot Noir-dominated blend.
The idea of creating two sauces for the wings has great merit. Aside from the fact that you can’t fly with one wing (sorry . . . couldn’t resist), it acknowledges the broad tolerance for “heat” among wing-lovers. It also allows you to offer both beer and champagne, thereby bringing a little creativity and sophistication to the humble Buffalo wing. And lest I forget, champagne is also a great pairing with traditional fried chicken. To summarize:
> Chardonnay-dominated Champagne with medium spicy wings
> Beer with hot spicy wings