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May 29, 2007
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Wine With. . . Chicken Piccata

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas


The Italian term piccata is related to the word 'piquant', but in this case it takes on a meaning closer to 'zesty' or 'tangy,' and refers to the lemon juice that is an essential component in this dish.  Piccata is traditionally made with veal or chicken (vegetarians substitute tofu or eggplant).  It's a simple meal to prepare, and a sure palate pleaser.  We follow the standard method of butterflying boneless chicken breasts and pounding them (between two sheets of waxed paper or in a plastic bag) with a rolling pin or a wine bottle until they are as thin as possible -- just short of falling apart.  These chicken scallops are then lightly dusted with flour and quickly browned in a mixture of olive oil and butter.  The chicken is transferred to a platter and the pan is deglazed with white wine.  We throw chopped garlic, capers, and a few thin slices of lemon into the pan, and then pour in chicken stock and fresh lemon juice.  After the mixture is cooked for a few minutes until somewhat reduced, the chicken is then added back to the pan, quickly reheated, and served. 


While this is not an outstandingly difficult dish to pair with wine, it does present a couple of challenges, for it is both rich-thanks to the mingled ingredients of the reduced sauce--and tart (piccata).  To our palates it is much better suited to white than red wine.  We tried a few reds, and none truly satisfied.  A Morellino di Scansano was a tad too thin, and the Pinot Noirs all seemed either too thin or too sweet.  One of us liked the way a blowsy Zinfandel flirted with the chicken and lemon-peel flavors, but the other hated it.  Among the whites, there was consensus.  The Chablis and Pinot Blanc in our tasting were clear winners by virtue of emphasizing both the delicacy and complexity in the dish.  At the other end of the spectrum, the somewhat richer, weightier whites formed a seamless bridge to the dish's silky textures and nutty, pan-browned flavors.




Approx. Price



Domaine Paul Blanck, Alsace (France) Pinot Blanc d'Alsace 2005

(Imported by Michael Skurnik Wines)






Making for a very pleasant match, this wine melded seamlessly with the dish.  As so often happens with Alsatian Pinot Blanc at the supper table, nothing about it made a forceful statement.  Instead, it happily played the part of an accomplished accompaniment.




Farnese, Terre di Chieti (Abruzzi, Italy) Pecorino Casale Vecchio 2005 (Imported by Empson USA)






Made from a fairly obscure Italian grape variety called Pecorino or 'little sheep' (due apparently to the shape of the grapes themselves), this medium-weight white showed attractive citrus and pear fruit as well as an intriguing nutty note in the finish.  Both of these characteristics enabled it to complement the dish, which itself has a similar duality of flavors in its sauce.




William Fevre, Chablis (France) 'Champs Royaux' 2005

(Imported by Henriot)






Youthful but expressive, this Chablis was a definite winner with the chicken picata, as its mineral-scented undertones brought a new and appealing flavor component to the experience, making the dish seem lighter and more refined than it did otherwise.




Flora Springs, Napa Valley (California) 'Soliloquy' 2005




A fairly weighty expression of Sauvignon Blanc, due both to the warm growing conditions in the Napa Valley and the winery's use of oak barrels, this wine nonetheless succeeds where so many comparably-fashioned renditions fail, as it maintains varietal integrity.  Its citrus and melon flavors complemented the dish well, and unlike a more aggressive, unoaked Sauvignon we tried, it had sufficient heft to hold its own with the sauce.




Merryvale, Napa Valley (California) Chardonnay 'Starmont' 2005





Unlike the Chablis, which made the dish seem lighter, this more blatantly oak-influenced Chardonnay made it seem richer.  The wood, however, did not overwhelm the chicken's subtleties, so the match proved very satisfying.