What wine goes with duck?
By BBC Maestro
Roasted in soy and sesame, sprinkled with orange shavings or hoisin-glazed, duck has long been inspiring chefs and cooks in cuisines around the world.
If you’re adding a duck dish to your weekly shop or dinner party menu and are not sure what wine to serve with it, you’re in the right place. Read on to explore what wine goes with duck.
An intro to wine pairing
For thousands of years, people have been drinking wine alongside food. From its rumoured first appearance in Georgia in 6000 BC up until now, wine has had a big presence in the diets of many across the world. Back in its early years, wine’s popularity can be attributed to it being more sanitary than local water supplies and therefore safer to drink.
Of course, nowadays this isn’t the case. But over time, the way in which wine has been consumed globally has changed. And if you look a little closer at the histories of different cultures, you’ll find it being served in a variety of ways, at different times of day with different dishes.
Winemakers in all corners of the world began adding their own touch to the craft – growing grapes that thrive in their climate and creating wine unique to that region. This has led to people appreciating wine more for the quality of the grape, the region it is from, its production and flavour, and the overall drinking experience.
With new wines being made in exotic regions, many in the wine sector and beyond became excited to find the best ways to enjoy these with food. In particular, exploring how the flavour of wine can enhance the flavours of food and vice versa. This has led to huge investment from sommeliers, researchers and wine fanatics, into what the best wine and food pairings are – with some going as far as to research the molecules within certain wines and foods to see if they are compatible.
Nowadays many people follow a set of rigid rules when it comes to wine pairing. “There are various rules that we’ve all grown up with, like with meat or meaty dishes, you drink red wine. With fish, you drink white wine,” says Jancis Robinson in her online wine course.
In today’s world, these are almost universally understood. But Jancis believes that this inflexibility is a wasted opportunity to explore and learn more about wine and its flavour. Instead, she encourages wine drinkers to adopt a more adventurous and playful approach to wine tasting. “After all, she says, “rules are there to be broken, aren’t they?”
With that in mind, it’s important to note that the enjoyment of wine pairings varies for every wine drinker. Everyone has their own unique palette and flavour preferences, so although there are recommendations from experts on what pairings are the best, it really comes down to individual taste.
Wines to pair with duck
It’s useful to have some guidance when it comes to choosing a wine to serve with a dish. That’s where the common wine pairing ‘rules’ come in handy.
When it comes to red meat, the ‘rules’ will often nudge wine drinkers toward red wines that are high in tannins. These are red wines such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. This is because meats like venison, lamb and beef can help the wine taste less dry.
For game, such as duck and pigeon – which have more delicate flavours than other poultry, Jancis Robinson recommends wine varieties that don’t carry too much tannin, such as a Pinot Noir, for example. Pinot Noir works particularly well for duck because its acidity balances out the fattiness of the meat itself.
Of course, how the duck is cooked creates more opportunities for different wine pairings. “I feel that it can be quite off-putting for wine consumers to be given the idea that there is just one perfect match for every wine,” says Jancis Robinson in her wine pairing lesson.
Whether duck is cooked in a Moroccan tagine alongside citrus flavours or served on braised red cabbage in a classic French duck confit, there is room to explore new wine flavour pairings across different cuisines. For a long time, wines from other regions across the world weren’t accessible as they are today. Now that they are, a whole host of new flavour pairings are waiting to be discovered.
Many Middle Eastern recipes cook duck alongside fruits to draw out the subtle flavours from the meat. Oranges, dates and figs are popular choices. French cuisine is also famously known to pair duck with oranges, and even plums too. Think of a classic duck l’orange sitting proudly at the top of the menu of a Parisian brasserie. In these cases, a Pinot Noir is a perfect match because its fruity notes will complement the fruitiness of the dishes.
In Asian cuisines, duck can be served in a variety of ways. Sweet Chinese and Singaporean recipes – such as braised sesame duck or Peking duck (where the duck meat is cooked until the skin is golden, crispy and slightly sweet) pair well with a Zinfandel, Shiraz, or a Grenache to help elevate subtle saltiness and balance the sweet flavours.
For hearty Italian duck dishes such as a classic duck ragu, a full-bodied red wine with subtle tones of oak can complement the dish nicely. Here, a Cabernet Sauvignon or a fruity Merlot may be a good fit.
Many people consider wine pairing as all to do with colour – of the wine and of the meat. Jancis reminds viewers to think about the textures and weight of the food they’re trying to pair wine with too. A big tip many miss out on is “matching the weight of the dish to the weight of the wine,” she says.
Sometimes a steak tastes delicious with a full-bodied white wine such as a Californian Chardonnay or a Condrieu from the northern Rhône region of France, because the wine’s lightness counterbalances the richness of the meat. So, when it comes to pairing wine with your duck dishes, consider the richness, textures and weight of the dish you’re serving. If it’s rich and slightly chewy, choose a wine that is higher in tannins that shares that certain chewiness too.
And if you’re ever in doubt about what to serve, Jancis recommends Rosé. “Rosé is one of the most versatile wines. A fairly full-bodied dry rosé can go with a very wide range of foods.”
When it comes to wine pairing with new dishes and cuisines, it’s useful to have some guidelines to follow when choosing a wine to serve. But remember that a lot of successful pairing comes down to you and your very own taste palette. So try new wines, new foods and new combinations of the two. You never know the delight you’ll find. If you’re looking for some inspiration, why not check out our online cooking courses to help get you started.
FREE video lesson: How to pair wine & food
Learn more about wine
Embark on a journey of discovery with Jancis Robinson as she takes you from vineyard to glass in her course An Understanding Of Wine. Along the way you’ll learn all about the process of winemaking, top tasting tips and advice on choosing the right bottle, all the while gaining some of the best industry insights with her guest experts.