Duck is a fascinating ingredient in that while it is technically considered a poultry, it can also be classified as a dark meat for its bloody, firm texture and gamey flavor. As any other meat, duck can be prepared in a myriad of ways, with various recipes highlighting its different qualities. These diverse duck recipes lend themselves to a wide range of wine pairings, from fruity, light-bodied red wines to the most luscious dessert wines. This simple guide offers a few expert tips on pairing wine with duck, listing some of our favorite duck dishes and the wine styles that best match them. A general rule of thumb is to choose a wine with high acidity to balance the naturally fatty, rich meat of the duck.
One of the most classic wine and duck pairings out there is a juicy, pan-fried duck breast with Pinot Noir. When cooked to a perfect pink, duck breast reveals mild earthy, gamey and bloody flavors which go beautifully with the earthy, savory nuances of mushroom, leather and meat in a glass of aged Burgundy red. The delicate hints of black cherry in a Pinot Noir from France and the more intense red cherry in more fruit-forward New World versions like an Oregon Pinot Noir offer a nice touch of fruit to this classic dish, going particularly well with the tart red berry sauce commonly served on the side. Pinot Noir pairs exceptionally well with duck because of its high natural acidity, which cleans the palate of the fatty texture of the duck skin, and because of its mild tannins, which do not overpower the delicate meat.
This preparation involves slow-cooking different pieces of duck in its own fat until the meat is tender enough to fall of the bone. A confit duck leg is traditionally served with potatoes and braised red cabbage. The concentrated, rich and rustic duck flavor will pair best with an equally robust and structured wine. In white, we recommend a textured Marsanne or Roussanne from the Rhone Valley. In red, choose a Merlot-based Bordeaux blend from Pomerol, a cool-climate Syrah from Hermitage or an Aglianico from Basilicata in southern Italy.
One of the most indulgent duck preparations, Peking duck dates back to China's Imperial Era. This recipe involves slow-roasting the duck and, traditionally, carving it tableside. First, the crispy skin is served with a sweet garlic dip. Then, tender pieces of dark meat are wrapped in steamed pancakes and enjoyed with hoisin or plum sauce and fresh spring onions. To counteract the fatty skin of any roast duck recipe, a wine with high acidity is necessary. In white, choose an off-dry Pinot Gris from Alsace, which will hold up well even with a slightly sweet glaze. And to cut through the sweet and sour flavors of this dish, we recommend a slightly spicy but still delicate red wine with jammy black fruit flavors, like a Zinfandel from California or a Shiraz from the Barossa Valley of Australia.
For a cozy, winter-time comfort food, nothing hits the spot like a hearty bowl of cassoulet, made from duck slow-cooked in a casserole with white beans and pork sausage. The big, bold flavors of this casserole demand an equally big and bold wine to match it, like an oak-aged Chardonnay from Burgundy, a meaty Malbec from Argentina or a Nebbiolo-based Barolo from Piedmont. The rich dark fruit flavors of a Grenache-based wine could also pair beautifully, something like a red Priorat or Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
Duck dishes with a bit more heat, such as a jerk-spiced duck or duck with Thai red curry may go pair exceptionally well with an off-dry or sweet white wine like a Riesling from Germany or aromatic Gewurztraminer from Alsace. When searching for a red wine to pair to these types of dishes, make sure to choose something with a low level of alcohol and soft tannins in order not to over-accentuate the spicey flavors of the dish. A lighter-bodied Gamay from a Beaujolais cru (Morgon, Saint-Amour, Moulin-a-Vent, for example) could be the right choice. Or choose a fruity red wine from Jura.
Made from the engorged lobes of fattened duck liver, foie gras is one of the most celebrated duck preparations out there. This delicacy can take on several forms, from a creamy cold terrine or torchon spread over fresh baguette to a mouthwatering pan-seared foie gras poêlé with a slightly smoky flavor. For this ultimate duck indulgence, choose an equally indulgent wine. For a cold preparation, like a foie gras terrine or mousse, we recommend a bold traditional method sparkling wine, like a vintage Champagne, whose bright acidity will balance perfectly with the richness of the foie. Meanwhile, the caramelized, salty, smoky flavors of a seared foie gras will harmonize beautifully with a dessert wine, such as a Sauternes (the classic pairing) or sweet Tokaji Aszu.
A pleasure all year round, but especially satisfying in the cooler months of winter and autumn, duck is an ingredient that keeps giving. The robust flavors and fatty, rich texture of this bird lend it to a wide range of preparations, from a classic whole roast bird to a creamy, rich mousse. When choosing the perfect wine and duck pairing, we recommend paying close attention to the nuances of flavor and texture in your recipe.