Pairing Off: Buffalo Wings

We all know the story by now, how a Buffalo pub owner took discarded chicken parts, fried them up and rolled them in a sauce composed largely of butter and Tabasco. Within a few years, wings were everywhere--the invention joining those other gifts that city has bestowed upon the world, such as...um...let's see...lake effect snow? O. J. Simpson?

But as popular as Buffalo wings have become, they are still considered pub fare, something to gnaw on while downing brewskis. The rich, spicy and often extraordinarily hot stuff slobbered all over the meat--and eventually your lips and fingers--would seem to defy wine pairing.

"When I think of wings, it's a casual food--so I want a nice, approachable wine," explains Denise Jones of Vino 100, immediately framing the problem.

Easy drinking wines generally throw bright fruits across the palate. They show some body, but not the complexity of most bottles meant for pairing. In this case, however, the wine must be able to compete with a clinging, spicy sauce, so...

"My tendency would be to go with Zinfandel," says Lawrence Collins of Majestic Fine Wines & Spirits in Addison. "It would complement the spiciness."

Jones agrees, suggesting a label called--and cute names are a trend in the Zin world--7 Deadly Zins. "The grape is spicy, ripe and fruity," she points out, "but there's enough acidity and balance to stand up to wings."

Ah, but she throws in a wild card white recommendation, as well: Kyos Grillo, a Sicilian wine that's a little on the exotic side.

Interesting, but I settled on the Zinfandel, if only because it is readily available...and listed the corruptible offenses on the label. Hell, who knew that sloth and envy were that bad?

Hot wings pose a very simple attack: a quick slap of tart sweetness followed by a steady surge of fire. The wine seems to slide under the blast furnace effect, never washing it away, yet somehow standing on its own, as if indifferent to the sensation engulfing your palate. Starting as a nice bottle, with ripe cherry and must on the nose, a bold fruity flavor and pricks of pepper, the wine mellows against Buffalo wings.

Yes, it's strange. The wine appears to develop more character--richer and fatter--as it bulks up to the sauce. Still, it never puts out the fire...an interesting and quite compelling combination.

Maybe someday I'll see what the Grillo can do. But I've just finished off 25 wings and, well, I'm good for awhile.


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