What to Drink with Fried Chicken?

My friends Kate and Jamie love good food and wine, they love to cook, and they have a house style: Call it Perfectionist Midwestern. She grew up in Ohio, he grew up in Wisconsin, and although they haunt the upscale San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market as much as I do, they also have a perfectly normal affection for the down-home cooking they grew up with. As a result, it’s not uncommon for Jamie to spend several hours, in the week before a dinner party, researching classic recipes for macaroni and cheese. Not contemporary twists, mind you, but the real thing: What he wants to know are the core secrets to making truly sensational macaroni and cheese. The other night he decided to make fried chicken. I mentioned that a few local swanky restaurants have been serving fried chicken lately—including Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc and a place in my neighborhood called the Front Porch. But Jamie hadn’t heard of either, and didn’t particularly want to; this isn’t about a trend, for him. It’s about fried chicken.

By the time we showed up at their house, at 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon, the chicken had been soaking overnight in seasoned buttermilk, the batter was all mixed up, and Jamie’d rigged a pair of clothespins to suspend the probe of his digital thermometer in the hot oil. My job, of course, had been to bring wine, and I’ve been trying not to be such a wine geek at other people’s dinner parties; trying, in other words, to simply bring a good bottle or two that make sense for the evening, instead of bringing a half dozen and going nuts attempting to taste them all for my own edification. So I grabbed two bottles of Prosecco that I’ve had for a while, both made by Silvano Follador, of Valdobbiadene. One was his basic brut, at $12.99, and the other was his “Cartizze” Superiore at $19.99. Not sure what made me reach for them, except perhaps the hope that they might be a little bready, like a Champagne, and that the dry bubbly quality would help with the richness of the fried chicken. I could’ve brought Champagne, but I’m always a little nervous about seeming pretentious at Kate and Jamie’s house. And when the tone has been set by fried chicken, it seems right to show respect by keeping things casual.

I opened the Cartizze first, before dinner—while my kids ran wild on the vast open carpet in the apartment. I was immediately knocked out. Light and clear and yet plenty complex, this is a fantastic wine for the price: the kind you love from the first sip, and know immediately you’ll drink as much as you can, until the bottle runs dry. And the bottle did run dry, of course, midway through dinner. Jamie’s fried chicken was sensational—his cooking always is, the best kind of comfort food borne of serious effort. And the Prosecco was indeed a fine match, though not perfect. So we opened the second bottle, and found it a little more tart, with that slightly unpleasant green-apple mixture of sweet and sour that can be a little bothersome in sparkling wines. But we certainly drank it all, right up until the last golden-crispy leg of chicken was gone and Kate was bringing out her peach and blackberry cobbler, for which we needed no wine at all.