Fried Chicken and Champagne, an Iconic Pairing | Wine Enthusiast
Wine bottle illustration Displaying 0 results for
Suggested Searches
Articles & Content

How Fried Chicken and Champagne Became America’s Favorite Pairing

There’s something about the high-brow/low-brow combination of matching pricey Champagne with crisp and greasy fried chicken that encapsulates modern dining culture perfectly. Over the past 20 or so years, this “it” pairing has been steadily gaining traction to take the country by storm.

The most recent apex is Coqodaq, an entire restaurant devoted to fried chicken and Champagne that opened in Manhattan in January 2024. It offers the largest Champagne list in North America alongside three types of fried chicken: classic, Korean-style with garlic and soy and Korean-style with gochujang.

You May Also Like: An Iconic Fried Chicken Recipe from Napa

Sommelier Victoria James, a partner and the director of Coqodaq’s beverage program, says the moment restaurateur Simon Kim relayed the idea for the restaurant and asked about her ideas for the beverage program, she answered without hesitation: Champagne.

“In the sommelier world, and [for] wine drinkers, we all want something refreshing, bright and with minerality,” says James. “Champagne is the pinnacle of that, especially with fried foods.”

But the path to this sophisticated-yet-unpretentious pairing peak has been long and winding. While it’s impossible to pinpoint the moment someone first ate fried chicken together with Champagne (or another sparkling wine), there are definite moments in time that have led to the current craze. Below we explore how—and why—this gastronomic odd couple became inextricably linked in the modern American culinary canon.

Personalized flutes

In the Shop

Find a Personalized Glass for Every Sparkling Moment

Why Do Fried Chicken and Champagne Work So Well Together?

While it may be known in the wine world that sparkling wine pairs well with fried foods, it helps to understand why that is: the inherent complexity of Champagne. To earn the moniker, these bottles must be aged on the lees (spent yeast and other particulate matter) for at least 12 months. During this time, in a chemical reaction known as autolysis, enzymes break down the dead yeast cells and release compounds, proteins and molecules that impart a rich, rounded mouthfeel along with creamy and yeasty, bread-like notes to the wine. These aromas and textural components complement the texture and flavor of fried chicken.

You May Also Like: All the Grapes Used in Champagne, Explained

“But most importantly, it’s structural,” says James. “You have a soaring acidity that cuts through the richness, and you also have the carbonation, which helps break up the fats on your palate. And, they’re really sharp, delicate small bubbles that don’t dissipate quickly—they really just soak up all the oils on your tongue.”

Chris Hall, chef and co-owner of Roshambo in Atlanta, which has the pairing on its modern American menu, concurs. “Down here, chicken and biscuits is a thing, chicken and waffles is a thing,” he says. “A lot of Champagnes will be really yeasty, and you get that brioche element to it, which really works.”

Coquette fried chicken and sides
Image Courtesy of Coquette

An Elevated Riff on the OG Fried Chicken and Bubbles

While the combination of bready, bubbly Champagne with fried chicken may seem like a recent idea, eating fried chicken with a bubbly alcoholic beverage—namely beer—has a longer history in both the United States and other countries. James says that part of the inspiration for Coqodaq was from Kim’s memories of chimaek, which is Korean slang for the marriage of fried chicken and beer, in Korea. Their restaurant is an elevated version of that.

Meanwhile, Kenny Gilbert, the chef and co-owner of Silkie’s Chicken and Champagne Bar in Jacksonville, Florida, has memories of his dad always drinking Miller High Life—the so-called Champagne of beers—with fried chicken. “That’s what I’m kind of starting to realize, as I talk to more people, that it kind of started with beer and then [pairing with Champagne] is the elevated version,” says Gilbert.

You May Also Like: Don’t Overthink Champagne Pairings—Just Add Snacks

Like most trends of the last decade, the pandemic played a role in how it evolved. Gilbert came up with the concept for his fast-casual fried chicken restaurant with Champagne and Champagne cocktails during COVID. His former client Oprah Winfrey (for whom he worked as a personal chef) had called to check on him, and she reminisced about how delicious his fried chicken and biscuits were. Pairing them with Champagne just worked.

Meanwhile, with restaurants closed and chefs out of work, millions of people were seeking comfort (and comfort food). Many chefs, caterers and restaurants offered fried chicken and Champagne as a to-go meal. For example, Urban Hearth in Cambridge, Massachusetts, offered the two as a take-out combo in July 2020. Hall came up with the idea for Roshambo during the pandemic when, through his existing restaurant, Local Three, he began selling takeout fried chicken and Champagne meals. Roshambo ultimately opened in November 2020 with fried chicken and Champagne as major menu items.

However, while the pandemic may have catapulted the pairing of Champagne and fried chicken into the national spotlight, the link between them began forming long before most Americans caught onto their combined charms.

Centuries of Cross-Cultural Pollination

In the U.S., fried chicken has a deep history with African Americans and is associated with slavery. As a pairing, Champagne didn’t enter the conversation until much later. But cocktail historian Deniseea Taylor, who also runs a speakeasy in New Orleans and mans the Instagram handle is @chickenandchampagne, sees a link between the two that goes beyond a good pairing. In the 1800s, enslaved Black people were only allowed to raise chickens—not cattle—as their owners thought chickens were worthless. Some of these enslaved people began to fry the chicken in palm oil with West African spices, and sell it to people passing through by train, eventually perfecting the technique and creating a style of food that became a favorite of Americans across the country.

You May Also Like: How Black America Helped Define Cocktail Culture

Around the same time in France, Champagne was still an experiment, with fragile bottles often bursting as winemakers perfected their methods. It took time for both fried chicken and Champagne to become readily available, Taylor explains.

Then, in the early 2000s, Champagne started showing up more in hip-hop songs as an aspirational status symbol signifying wealth, opulence and success. At the same time, the American dining culture was in the midst of major change.

“The early 2000s were when restaurants were moving further away from what was considered traditional dishes and trying to come up with different things,” Taylor says. Champagne and fried chicken were “an unexpected mashup.”

COQODAQ Wine – Image Courtesy of Evan Sung for COQODAQ

A New Era in American Dining Culture

It didn’t take long for the pairing to begin turning up at U.S. restaurants. In 2005, chef Lisa Dupar opened Pomegranate Bistro in Redmond, Washington, with fried chicken and a robust list of bubbly on the menu. Her 2010 cookbook was even titled Fried Chicken & Champagne. The following year, Jerry Lasco opened Max’s Wine Dive in Houston, with the mantra, “Fried chicken and Champagne… Why the hell not?!” In 2011, Ashley Christensen opened Beasley’s Chicken + Honey in Raleigh, North Carolina, with fried chicken and a robust sparkling wine list.

Aside from becoming more ubiquitous at restaurants, fried chicken and Champagne dinners also often appear as one-off fundraisers, pop-up dinners or weekly or monthly occurrences. Coquette in New Orleans has been hosting beloved fried chicken and Champagne dinners a few times a year since 2013. Cork Wine Bar in Washington, D.C., had weekly Sunday supper fried chicken and Champagne dinners from 2018 until the pandemic. In Savannah, Georgia, local food website Eat It and Like It runs an annual sell-out Fried Chicken and Champagne dinner that’s been happening since 2017. Before the pandemic, a food truck called Fried & Fizzy made appearances at events around Phoenix for a few years. One-off dinners in places like Lexington, Kentucky; Robbinsdale, Minnesota; and Birmingham, Alabama, have been going on for years.

Taylor recalls hosting fried chicken and Champagne happy hours in her New York City apartment, which culminated in a going-away party in 2016 before she moved to New Orleans. Her one request to guests? Everyone had to either bring fried chicken or a bottle of bubbly.

Of course, like so many trends, the pairing didn’t pop off on a national stage—at least in the eyes of the food media—until it earned recognition as a standalone concept in New York City.

You May Also Like: Champagne Has Entered Its ‘Wherever, Whenever’ Era

Chef Sarah Simmons had occasionally served fried chicken for her weekly Sunday Suppers at her Big Apple restaurant City Grit. But one night, after service, while drinking a bottle of Champagne alongside cold fried chicken leftovers, the idea for her next concept, Birds & Bubbles, was born. The restaurant opened in 2014 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, offering fried chicken served in Champagne buckets along with classic Southern sides. It racked up instant critical acclaim from food media, and the pairing subsequently blew up as a pop-culture phenomenon.

It and Simmons’s other New York restaurants have since closed, but Birds & Bubbles lives on via a pre-fixe dinner at her restaurant in Columbia, South Carolina, also called City Grit. At a large table in the back of the restaurant, one nightly seating of up to eight people offers a flat-fee dinner that echoes the original “Bird & Bubbles experience,” explains Simmons. “It’s a way of keeping the brand alive and getting to preach the beauty of fried chicken and Champagne.”

Of course, while New York City can seem like the center of the universe for the folks who document dining trends, Birds & Bubbles wasn’t the first or the only restaurant serving the pairing at the time. Others outside the city have been just as—if not more successful—in spreading the word.

Also in 2014, Brooks Reitz opened Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oyster Shop in Charleston, South Carolina, with the idea of being an approachable neighborhood restaurant. Like many wine lovers, he wanted to expose more people to Champagne and convince them it didn’t have to be saved for special occasions—an idea that has taken off globally in recent years with some, us included, claiming Champagne has entered its drink “whenever, wherever” era.

“A big part of our DNA is hitting the high and the low because it’s fun, and we like when really cheap things sit next to really beautiful, expensive things,” says Reitz, who offers a well-curated Champagne list at relatively affordable prices with the goal of exposing more guests to the joys of the now-ubiquitous fried chicken pairing combo. “I want to stuff beautiful grower Champagne down people’s throats… so that people can’t not order Champagne.”

white wine glass

From the Shop

Find Your Wine a Home

Our selection of wine glasses is the best way to enjoy subtle aromas and bright flavors.