Duck is quite a mysterious meat for a lot of people.
Except here in France (yes, I live in France and I am French too), and perhaps in China as well, most don’t eat duck very often at all.
And it’s a shame, because duck is an excellent, both tasty and very tender, especially duck breasts.
When it comes to pairing it with wine though, the confusion is even greater than about how to cook it!
Here we are demystifying wine and duck pairing, by looking at how to match the top 5 duck recipes with the appropriate wine colors and styles.
What Wine Goes with Duck? Top tips from a French wine writer…
General Rules about Pairing Duck with Wine
Duck is a delicate and tender meat. It is obviously a red meat, but being poultry, duck is a meat that also has similarities and sometimes flavors resembling those of chicken.
Like chicken, most of the flavor in duck meat comes from the cooking, especially when cooked on a hot surface when the skin or the outer part of the meat is caramelized. Then, very strong meaty flavors can be liberated.
The sauce and the sides will play a major role in the flavor profile of the duck dish you will be cooking and tasting, therefore it will strongly impact your wine choice combination.
For a set of simple general rules:
- Favor light red wines or white wines for slow-cooked duck, recipes that do not involve giving the meat much color caramelization, as well as for fruit-based and mildly-flavored sauces.
- For roast duck, barbecued duck or confit, any cooking method that brings out the strong flavors of nearly-burnt duck skin or meat, go for a more tannic and powerful red so the wine is not overpowered.
- Rosé wines are a good middle-ground that will give you the best chance for a reasonably good pairing. I personally find that the pairing may result a little boring and be a missed-opportunity for a more spectacular flavor association.
A notable exception will be pairing wine with Foie Gras, which works well with sweet wines.
So, let’s dig a bit deeper into which red and white wine styles go well with the most popular duck recipes and dishes!
Watch my Top 3 Tips on Duck & Wine Pairing in Video
#1 What Wine with Roast Duck?
Roasted duck has an abundance of intense meaty flavors with the caramelized fatty skin infusing all its goodness into the meat. Yet, the inside of the meat should be tender and delicate in taste.
So, unless you are serving it with a powerful side dish or an intense sauce like a wine sauce, favor a relatively light wine style.
Because duck is fat, make sure you opt for a red with a solid acidity to cut through the richness of the meat.
Here are a few great wine style choices with your roast duck:
- Pinot Noir
- Gamay (like a Beaujolais)
- Tempranillo (like a good Rioja wine)
- Sangiovese (such as a Chianti Classico)
- A cool-climate Cabernet Sauvignon like a Bordeaux.
Avoid powerful and high-alcohol warm climate wines that may be too big for the dish, like California Cabs and Merlots, Argentina Malbecs or Australian Shiraz.
#2 What Wine with Confit Duck and Stews?
Duck confit is one of the French classic dishes, popular all across France but particularly so in the South West where it is a staple of traditional cuisines together with Foie Gras (duck liver, see wine pairing for it further down below).
Confit is prepared through a centuries-old preservation process where the duck meat is first cured in salt, then cooked for hours it in its own fat for both sterilizing and tendering it.
Duck confit has an elegant but rather strong rustic flavor, often generously salty.
The South Western French pair it with their local rich and heavily tannic red wines for a reason, or two reasons in fact.
Your red will need to have strong enough flavors to withstand the strong taste and saltiness of the dish. Dense tannins help adding a savory element to the pairing and cutting through the abundance of fat. Some say those tannins (that are anti-oxidants too) help in protecting your arteries from this fat as well, one of the theories behind the French paradox!
Here are a perfect wine styles to match your duck confit:
- A French Malbec like a Cahors or Languedoc Malbec
- Or another Southern French tannic red like Tannat
- The Argentinian version of Malbec, or the Uruguayan version of Tannat will work well too, although perhaps with lesser acidity therefore a heavier combo.
- Dense California Cabernet, Merlot or red blends, Aussie Shiraz, South African Pinotage.
#3 What Wine with Chinese Roast Duck?
Much like the Western roast duck, the Chinese roast duck recipe brings out powerful flavors from the meat, even more so because of the ginger, garlic, onion, bean sauce and maltose syrup seasoning.
The tricky part here is the relative sweetness of the dish that does not make it a great partner with rich red wines.
Lighter acidic reds as described above in the roast duck section will work fine, Pinot Noir and Beaujolais in particular.
But for a more surprising and successful combination and fireworks of flavors, aim for a dry crisp and flavorsome white, such as:
- Chardonnay, preferably un-oaked and from a cool climate.
- Pinot Gris (like an Alsace wine) or Pinot Grigio (in a rather dry to slightly off-dry style though or the whole may be too sweet and heavy)
- Dry Italian whites such as Gavi (Cortese grape) or Soave (Garganega grape variety)
#4 What Wine with Duck Breast à l’Orange?
Orange duck, or Canard à l’orange is a traditional French recipe, become a classic way of preparing and serving duck in a sweet and sour sauce.
Here the challenge for a fruitful wine pairing, just with like any other fruit-based duck recipe, is to overcome not only the sweetness but also the acidity of the dish.
Forget rich reds here, and be careful with lighter reds too as the tannins may clash and taste funny in combination with orange reduction.
Much like with Chinese roast duck, Riesling, Chardonnay or Pinot Gris/Grigio will work well, adding delicate notes of fruit and herbs to the pairing.
Traditional French wine matches could also be:
- Chenin Blanc (from Loire or perhaps South Africa)
- Côte du Rhône Blanc
- Alsace Gewurztraminer
- A crisp Languedoc white such as Picpoul de Pinet.
#5 What Wine with Foie Gras?
Foie Gras is made of the liver of a duck (sometimes a goose) that has been especially fattened.
The liver is then salted, seasoned and slow-cooked, giving it a creamy melt-in-your-mouth texture with a delicate buttery flavor. It is generally served in slices with crunchy toasted bread.
In fact, foie gras is probably the easiest of all duck dishes to be paired with wine and comes down more to your own personal taste and preference.
The French love to pair it the traditional way, with sweet late-harvest or Botrytis wines such as:
- Sauternes, Barsac, or Cadillac liqueur wines
- Alsace Vendanges Tardives (Riesling, Pinot Gris or Gewürztraminer)
Those add a rich sweet element to the tasting, bringing in much tropical fruit and citrus flavors to the combination. Much like orange sauce works well with duck, these wines and their fruit-driven profile give an interesting and satisfying feel.
Alternative sweet wines from all around the world will work just as well, late harvest white wines from anywhere, new or old world, fortified Muscats, or an Italian Passito. A sweet Spanish Sherry (Jerez) will work wonder as well, like Pedro Jimenez or a Palo Cortado.
Many dry white wines, especially those with pungent herbal flavors will work wonders too, consider on of these:
So, let me know. Which is your favorite wine to go with duck?
Have you tried any combination> Do you have a favorite duck recipe and the perfect wine to go with?
I would love to hear your thoughts about my suggestions, and hear your own recommendations and real-life experiences…