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Feb 1, 2011
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Wine With . . . Chicken Noodle Soup

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

It’s hard to imagine a more deliciously warming and nourishing centerpiece for a mid-winter supper than chicken noodle soup.  Chicken soup is international:  The addition of soy sauce and udon noodles makes it Japanese; peanuts give it an African flavor; and lemon and egg yield Greek Avgolemeno.  The soup may be spiced up with jalapeno peppers, tortilla strips and a squeeze of lime for a Mexican flair; and if you throw in lemongrass and coconut milk, that basic chicken soup becomes Thai tom ka gai. Chicken soup also is medicinal.  Matzo balls turn it into Jewish penicillin, and the Chinese believe that the addition of ginko nuts, goji berries, and/or ginger contributes healing benefits.  Chicken soup is inexpensive and simple to prepare, and it can be stored for a few days in the fridge or for weeks in the freezer.  After reviewing all these benefits, the only real question we had was: Is chicken noodle soup good with wine?

We don’t want to pick a fight with your mom, or Grandma, or that next door neighbor who is such a great cook, but we are convinced that there is no single “right” way to make chicken soup.  You can start with a whole chicken or chicken parts, or use leftover cooked chicken.  The important factor for extracting maximum flavor from the bird is to include at least some bones, but if you’re relying on boneless chicken parts you can compensate by using canned or other prepared chicken stock for a flavorful liquid (otherwise water is just fine).  We find that leftover commercial rotisserie chicken makes great chicken soup.  We’ll eat a most of a store-bought rotisserie chicken for dinner one night, and turn the carcass and leftover meat into soup for the next night. 

Other than onions and celery, there are no set rules for what vegetables to use.  Okay, maybe carrots too, and of course everything tastes better with garlic. But after that, just about any winter vegetable works well. For the finishing touch you can add egg noodles, matzo balls, croutons, or spaetzle, We always pass Asian Sriracha Sauce or North African Harissa at the table.  Used judiciously, it adds an extra jolt of flavor without undermining the basic simplicity of good chicken soup.      

Chicken Noodle Soup

Serves 4-6

2-4 pounds chicken (cooked or uncooked, preferably with bones included)

6 cups chicken stock or water

3 bay leaves (divided use)

1 teaspoon thyme

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons vinegar (white wine, white or apple cider) or white wine

Salt to taste

About 3-4 cups assorted diced vegetables such as onion, carrots, garlic, leeks, turnips, and celery

About 2 cups egg noodles, or udon or soba noodles

¼ cup minced fresh parsley or cilantro

Place the chicken in a large soup kettle.  Add the stock or water, two of the bay leaves, the thyme, a good grinding of pepper, and the vinegar or wine.  Reduce the heat and simmer for about one and-a-half hours.  When the chicken is cool enough to handle, strain it into another large pot or bowl.  Carefully pick through the chicken, discarding all bones and skin along with the bay leaves.  Chop the chicken into bite-size pieces and return it to the stock. 

If possible, let the soup cool in the refrigerator overnight so that the fat will be easy to lift off the surface; otherwise skim off as much fat as possible with a spoon.  Add salt to taste, the remaining bay leaf, and the vegetables.  Simmer for about forty-five minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender.  Add the noodles to a large pot of boiling, salted water and cook until just tender, about five minutes.  Pour into a colander and rinse under hot water.  Add the noodles to the soup, or divide them among the individual soup bowls, ladling the soup over them.  Garnish each serving with parsley or cilantro.

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We liked just about all the wines (thirteen in total) that we tried with our warm chicken noodle soup.  The ones we liked best, though, shared a common profile.  They were fruity but not overtly sweet, and neither too delicate nor too robust.  Medium-bodied whites without overt oak extract or light-weight reds without forceful tannin fared best. The Sriracha hot sauce we added to our bowls definitely helped somewhat fuller-bodied wines work well.  If you prefer your soup without that extra kick, slightly lighter wines should pair nicely.  The bottom line, though, is that a down-home dish that few people associate with wine turned out to be very wine friendly.    






Approx. Price




Jaume Serra Cristalino, Cava (Spain) Brut NV

(Imported by CIV USA)






Dry but substantial, with relatively gentle effervescence, this Cava accentuated the earthy flavors coming from the vegetables.  As so often happens with soups, the bubbles provided an enticing textural contrast.



Hahn, Monterey (California) Pinot Gris 2009




Flavors reminiscent of ripe pears and golden apples came to the fore, adding an attractive autumnal character to the pairing. 



Peter Lehmann, Barossa (Australia) Chardonnay 2009

(Imported by the Hess Collection)





Much as with the Pinot Gris, the fresh taste of fruit (in this case apples and citrus) constituted this wine’s primary appeal.  It helped make the soup seem lively as well as satisfying.



Saintsbury, Carneros (California) Pinot Noir “Garnet” 2009






We only tried three red wines with our chicken noodle soup.  While two (a California Merlot and southern Italian Nero d’Avola) seemed overly robust, this soft, supple Pinot paired beautifully.  Much like the Cava, it especially complemented the vegetables, and its woodsy, earthy undertones added an attractive depth to the match.



Villa Wolf, Pfalz (Germany) Riesling “Dry” 2009

(Imported by Loosen Bros USA)





While a number of other light-bodied whites (two Sauvignon Blancs, for example) seemed too delicate, this dry but expressively fruity Riesling paired very nicely with our soup.  The key to its success seemed to be its crisp acidity, as it tasted bright and lively, and so was never even remotely overwhelmed.