A Grilling Guide for Chicken, with Wine Suggestions

Grilled chicken becomes a gastronomic feast with the right wine.

Chicken is like the blank canvas of the culinary world, writes Gregory Dal Piaz, mild and amenable, it’s an easy vehicle to bring global flavors to life. So this summer, instead of just slathering on the barbeque sauce, let your chicken take you to the far flung corners of taste.

With so many choices to choose from, you can be adventurous and inventive when it comes to grilling chicken. The meat tends to pick up flavors from marinades quite quickly, and if you are careful to prevent the skin from burning, you can really get a well-distributed layer of flavors that adds something to every bite. And don’t forget to cook some extra when you do grill up chicken. (I don’t know about you, but leftover chicken is one of the few foods that seems better the second time around.) Temps are rising fast, so without further ado, let’s begin our global chicken grilling tour.


Spicy, piquant, and (when done right) a little smoky, Jamaican Jerk Chicken is a great recipe to add to your culinary repertoire. Once you master the style of cooking, and it is a style more than a recipe, you can jerk just about anything. I like my jerked chicken spicy, and a bit smoky, so I add a short period of mesquite smoking when I prepare my take on this island classic.

Jerk chicken really depends on a lengthy marinating period to allow the flavors of the marinade to seep deeply into the meat. When done correctly, you end up with a richly flavored, nuanced dish where flavor is not overpowered by spice. A wine with a similar flavor profile works best here, and I have found that a lighter styled Petite Sirah is really a wonderful match for the complex flavors of your typical jerk chicken recipe.


Herbs, garlic, and maybe a nice touch of citrus are a classic flavor combination found throughout the Mediterranean basin. Playing with the blend of herbs can give you multiple regional variations on this theme. Mint and oregano give this Mediterranean Grilled Chicken a Grecian feel, while oregano with basil would definitely speak more of Italy. The way this recipe is written, with rosemary and thyme, is a decidedly Provencal twist.

While this recipe calls for lemon, feel free to make this your own by substituting lime, orange, or even grapefruit if you prefer. While there’s plenty of citrus flavor inherent in the rub used here, garnishing the finished dish with a few wedges for squeezing can add a nice zesty flourish.  Friulano, from the Fruili region of Italy, is a lovely blend of richness, bright orchard and citrus fruits, and an edge of wildflowers and herbs that make it a perfect complement for a simple grilled chicken dish like this one.

(Ask your local wine expert for a SA alternative – Ed.)


Tandoori chicken. It’s probably the most familiar and common Indian dish in the United States. While it was traditionally cooked in a tandoor, a type of egg-shaped clay oven that roasts the chicken over an open flame (rather than grilling it), the recipe is very well-suited to simple grilling.

Marinated in yogurt, which helps to keep it moist, and a rich blend of aromatic spice, tandoori chicken is a flavor explosion waiting to happen. Depending on the spices used, it can also be fairly spicy, so pairing it with wine can be a real challenge. This is a case where you really have to think of whether you are going to go for a complimentary pairing, to try to out spice the tandoori, or opting instead for something that offers more of a contrast. I’m going to cheat a bit and settle for a little of both. Look for a very aromatic variety to pair with tandoori chicken. In this case I’ve opted for Torrontes from Argentina. With an intense floral character, it can stand up to the spicy nature of this recipe, but the palate is more of a refreshing citrus wash, often with a nice hint of sweetness that knits together seamlessly with the sweet spices of the recipe.

(Ask your local wine expert for a SA alternative – Ed.)


This Thai recipe for Grilled Thai Chicken with an Herb-Lemongrass Crust brings together many of the elements of the previous recipes, but in a brisker, brighter style. It’s similarly spicy, with coconut milk filling the role of the yogurt in the previous tandoori recipe, all wrapped up with the flavors of basil and cilantro. I love this recipe; it’s one of my favorite ways to prepare grilled chicken and it is surprisingly wine-friendly. While this recipe calls for chicken breasts, don’t be afraid to go whole-bird here!

Again, the spice can make pairing with wine seem like a challenge, but the bright nature of this recipe and the distinctly herbal overtones make it a natural match for juicy, herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc. You need a really vivid style of Sauvignon Blanc to work here, so head straight for New Zealand. Something rich with jalapeno, citrus, and gooseberry flavors would be the perfect complement to this recipe fresh off the grill.


Spiced with gentle notes of heat and sweet, this Moroccan-Style Chicken recipe brings a nice subtle blend of flavorings to the table. I would love to brush the chicken pieces with a touch of buckwheat honey right before service, which might make it a bit too sweet for easy wine pairings, at least the pairings I’m thinking of, but it certainly sounds delicious. To make this a classic meal, finish it off with a nice fruited rice dish.

This simple, easy-to-prepare recipe has some assertive flavors, so look for a wine that can match the specific type of spice at play without overpowering the flavor of the chicken. A rich rosé would be a lovely partner for this dish. Look for one that’s spicy and even a bit sweet, which will help it stand up to the light touch of sweetness in the recipe.

(Source: SNOOTH)