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Oct 29, 2008
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Wine With...Stuffed Chicken Breasts

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas       

We recently confronted a culinary problem that is familiar to many people we know: how to make chicken breasts, which are inherently bland and boring, taste interesting.  Since we wanted a dish that would be both nutritious and delicious, we ruled out any recipes that might involve loads of butter and cream.  And since we thought of this as a weeknight supper challenge, we didn't want fancy ingredients that required a special trip to a gourmet shop, or a recipe that called for lots of prep work.  After some web surfing, we finally decided to cut pockets in the chicken breasts and stuff them.  We thought about using ham and mozzarella as a stuffing, but decided instead to use spinach and ricotta.  We then dusted the chicken lightly with a mixture of bread crumbs and grated parmesan, and popped them into a hot oven.  The results were just what we'd hoped for, the chicken tender, moist, and--best of all-far from boring.   

With a fairly neutral taste on its own, white chicken meat tends to be especially accommodating to different wine styles depending on what other components enter into the equation.  (Piquant spicing, black olives, mustard-all of these will affect the overall flavor profile of the dish.)  In this case the infusion of flavor from spinach plus a subtle hint of thyme was the obvious determining factor for us, but equally important was the textural mosaic of the dish--including the pleasurable crunch of toasted bread crumbs, the chewiness of chicken, and the sumptuous richness of ricotta cheese.   

When it came to selecting the most compatible wines, color proved less meaningful than weight: wines that were too thin for the dish (a Gavi, for example) or too fleshy (a resoundingly ripe Zinfandel) were far less satisfying than medium-weight wines, whether white and red.  As for flavor, at both extremes some wines were obviously too delicate or too bold; but on the whole, texture (which may also be described as mouth-feel, or body) was the most compelling feature in determining which wines we liked best with our stuffed chicken breasts.

If you have any food and wine pairings that you think are outstanding, or if you've encountered any glaring mismatches, we'd love to hear from you.  Drop us a line at winewith@winereviewonline.com



Approx. Price



Acacia, Carneros Napa Valley (California) Pinot Noir 2006






Bright and bouncy, with sweet cherry-scented fruit flavors, this silky-feeling wine seemed a tad too sugary when sipped on its own, but was a clear winner with the dish, as the spinach seemed to temper some of its exuberance.




Edna Valley Vineyard, San Luis Obispo County (California) Chardonnay 'Paragon' 2006






Ripe and rich, showing plenty of oak influence, this attractively-priced California Chardonnay offered plenty of flavor but never interfered with the mélange of tastes in the dish itself.  We've had a hard time finding tasty Golden State Chardonnay at this price point lately, so were especially pleased to find this one performing so well.




Luna, Napa County (California) Pinot Grigio 2007




Much fuller, richer and riper than most northern Italian Pinot Grigios, this wine tasted of pears and golden apples, and felt neither too light nor too heavy with the dish.  An attractive bitter note in the finish (characteristic of this grape in this style) only enhanced the pairing.    




Tormaresca, Puglia (Italy) 'Neprica' 2007

(Imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates)





This was our favorite match, but we found it difficult to say whether that was because the pairing proved so good or because we just liked the wine so much.  A medium-weight red blend of Negroamaro, Primitivo, and Cabernet Sauvignon, it was chock-full of fruit and savory spicy flavors, without ever seeming heavy or hot.  So while we feared that it might prove too forceful with this dish, it ended up proving very complementary.




Zette, Vin de Pays du Lot (France) Rosé 2007

(Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons)





Though coming from southwestern France's Lot Valley (near Cahors), this wine resembles a Provencal rosé, in that it offers bright red berry flavors enhanced by echoes of dried herbs.  While definitely fruity, it finishes deliciously dry, and offered just about perfect weight when paired with this particular dish.