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Mar 2, 2010
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Wine With . . . Chicken Pot Pies

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

Our recipe for chicken pot pies actually veers off the path of all-American classic comfort food and heads across the ocean to team up with the French version, Bouchées à la Reine, resulting in a dish that is both elegant and comforting.  The standard filling for a Yankee pot pie is a hearty amalgam of chicken and vegetables (usually carrots and peas) bound together with a sturdy Béchamel sauce.  One of our vintage cookbooks, Good Maine Food (published 1939), even has a recipe for a chicken and clam pot pie.  We haven’t tried that one yet, but with hardboiled eggs and diced potatoes (no peas and carrots) included in with the clams and chicken it sounds surprisingly good. 

Bouchées à la Reine are individual tartlets made with puff pastry, They used to require plenty of time and a measure of skill to produce.  But with excellent pre-made pastry shells now widely available, this is an easy-to-prepare dish that also lends itself to the convenience of being made ahead of time and assembled a few minutes before serving.  Of course there is nothing to prevent you from starting from scratch and rolling out your own dough, whether flaky puff pastry or a standard pie crust.  You could also make one large pie (in France this is known as a Vol au Vent) rather than individual tarts.  The tartlets make an impressive first course--a good beginning for an elegant dinner party--or a soothing, warming main one.   You certainly can play around with the ingredients, unless you’re want to stick to classic Bouchées à la Reine, the recipe for which which uses only chicken, truffles and (sometimes) sweetbreads.  Going the pot pie route leaves the culinary possibilities wide open to add (and subtract) ingredients.   Sliced, cooked mushrooms make a particularly savory addition, as do things such as diced turnips, asparagus, bell pepper, and corn.  Clams, anyone?

Chicken Pot Pies

You can use leftover chicken or poached or roasted chicken breasts.  We usually poach a whole chicken in a white wine-seasoned water bath, which gives us flavorful chicken and stock, plus plenty of leftovers for a future meal of chicken salad, tacos. or soup.  If you are restricting your fat intake, the cream can be eliminated, although the dish will be less rich and will lose some of its character.

You can make the chicken filling entirely ahead of time, popping the tart shells into the oven about 20 minutes before serving.  

4 tablespoons butter

1 small onion or one leek, minced

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups chicken broth (we use the stock leftover from poaching the chicken)

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste

1/3 cup heavy cream

Salt to taste

2 cups cooked, diced chicken

1 cup frozen peas

In a medium-large pot melt the butter.  Add the onion and cook, over medium heat until soft.   Whisk in the flour, cook for a minute or two, then whisk in the chicken broth.  Continue whisking for several moments, until the sauce has begun to thicken up.   Stir in the cream and season to taste.   Add the chicken and simmer for 20 minutes or so.  Add the peas and cook another 5-8 minutes.  (May be made ahead to this point.) 

About 25 minutes before serving bake the tart shells according to package directions.   Heap the chicken mixture into the baked shells and top each with the pastry “hat.”

Serves 6 as a first course, 2 as a main course.

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The wines that showed best with this dish did not much surprise us.  Our pot pies were quite rich and filling, but with their white, cream sauce and flaky puff pastry, they also partnered better with white wines than with reds.  The whites, though, needed to be pretty substantial.  A zesty South African Chenin Blanc, for instance, tasted yummy on its own but vapid with the dish.  So too with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  By contrast, weightier whites held up just fine.  As you’ll see from our recommendations, so too did a rosé—for much the same reason.  We are recommending one red wine, if only because we know that some readers insist on that color when opening a bottle.  If you do go that route, though, be sure to choose one that’s soft and sumptuous rather than bold and brawny.




Approx. Price





Beckman Vineyards, Santa Ynez Valley (California) Marsanne “Purisma Mtn Vineyard” 2007









The nutty character of this Marsanne provided a flavor contrast to the sweet flavors of the creamy chicken pot pies, but the wine had enough heft to hold its own, and so in no sense seemed to be overwhelmed by the dish.


Chateau St Jean, Sonoma County (California) Chardonnay 2008





We guessed that oak-influenced Chardonnay would be a good match for this dish, and (for once) we were right.  The buttery, vanilla-tinged aromas and flavors of the wine complemented the creamy richness of the dish very nicely, and the citrusy flavors gave the match zesty verve.




Cono Sur, Colchagua Valley (Chile) Viognier “Visión” 2008 (Importd by Vineyard Brands)







The floral notes in this wine’s bouquet, coupled with the peach-like fruit flavors, gave this pairing a lift, making the dish seem a tad lighter and livelier than it seemed otherwise.  It made for a satisfying match.





Folie à Deux, Napa Valley (California) Merlot 2007









This wine’s fruity sweetness and quite noticeable overlay of sweet oak might seem distracting in another context, but those qualities, coupled with its smooth texture, are what made it pair nicely with this dish.  The pot pies themselves taste somewhat sweet, so the sugary qualities enhanced rather than distracted from the experience.








Robert Oatley, Mudgee (Australia) Rosé of Sangiovese 2008

(Imported by Oatley Wines, Inc.)








Dry but definitely fruit-filled, this rosé made a very enjoyable partner for the flaky chicken pies.  It provided a zesty vivacity, but at the same time showed so much bright, sweet fruit flavor, that it ended up echoing rather than competing with the dish.