Whether at home or in an Italian restaurant, chicken Parmesan pairs well with wines that complement its spicy, salty and sweet flavors. The old adage about red wine with red meat and white wine with white meat doesn't apply here -- white wine might complement the chicken more, but red wine might go better with the red sauce. Order wine to preference, while keeping in mind a few pointers about the best flavors.
Because chicken Parmesan can be prepared in a variety of ways, a variety of wines can complement its flavors. Determine whether the crust on your chicken fillet contains more breadcrumbs, flour and herbs, or whether it contains mostly grated Parmesan with very little filler. Because Parmesan is such a rich cheese with a salty and slightly bitter flavor, a chicken cutlet heavily crusted with it stands up better to a sweeter wine than a dish with heavier breading would. Other factors include the richness and sweetness of the sauce and the type of pasta. Choose fuller-bodied wines for heavier sauces and lighter-bodied wines for chicken Parmesan served with a bruschetta-type sauce of chopped tomatoes, basil and olive oil.
If you prefer red wine, rest assured it pairs nicely with chicken Parmesan. Choose a full-bodied cabernet sauvignon or Italian Chianti when you know that the dish contains a rich, heavy sauce full of stewed tomatoes and chicken that may contain dark meat. Otherwise, select a medium-bodied red wine such as pinot noir or a lighter merlot. When the chicken Parmesan contains red pepper flakes or spiced oil, choose a chilled sweeter red wine such as lambrusco to help cut the heat.
White wines remain a less traditional choice for chicken Parmesan, but can still work well, especially when the entree is served with vegetables or buttered pasta instead of a heavy marinara sauce. Avoid light and sweet white wines such as riesling, and choose instead a spicy sauvignon blanc or crisp pinot grigio. Choose white wine with chicken Parmesan when the focus of the dish is more on the cheese instead of the tomato sauce.
Tips and Tricks
When in a restaurant, ask the waiter for a pairing suggestion from the sommelier or chef. House wines that are less familiar may provide a versatile food pairing for the table, allowing guests to choose a bottle or carafe to share regardless of the dishes ordered. Asking for a wine suggestion never indicates less sophistication; instead, the proprietor will see you as a diner with an adventurous palate, willing to try something new.
Andrea Lott Haney writes articles and training materials for food industry publications. Having studied foodservice sanitation, nutrition and menu planning at Purdue University, Lott Haney has more than 10 years of experience as a catering and event planner for luxury hotels and currently tours the Midwest as a corporate customer service trainer and consultant.
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