Wine Pairing: What to Drink with Peking Duck

Wine Pairings

We help you pick wine to drink with the food you eat.

Editor's Note: Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein joins us again with wine recommendations for our favorite Serious Eats recipes. Evan is the author of two fantastic wine books: Perfect Pairings and Daring Pairings. Looking for wine recommendations for your favorite recipe? Leave Evan a note in the comments.


[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Some of you may be planning to serve a festive roast for Christmas, but others go with fish, goose, or a huge order of Chinese food. Whether you're having a delivery feast or following Kenji's make-at-home method, Peking duck is a meal that deserves a proper beverage.

If you're going with beer, consider skipping the Tsing Tao and going maltier, either to an amber ale or a rich, pruney Belgian dubbel. (See this post for more about pairing beer with Chinese food.)

To pick the perfect wine for Peking duck, it is imperative to be geographically blind while food style-aware. Like with any dish, you need to identify the key flavors, and think about the balance of salt, heat, sweetness, and bitterness.

Food For Thought

20101216cheninblanc.jpgPeking duck is rich, fatty (especially if you are a skin lover), and complex, but the actual driver here is the plum sauce, which has a pronounced sweet-sour profile, leaning sweet.

For this (and other slightly sweet Chinese dishes) it's best to choose a white wine that is slightly off-dry, with low to moderate alcohol, minimal or zero oak, and bright acidity. Use your own judgment on the amount of sweetness: if the dish is very sweet...ratchet it up in the wine too!! If you prefer reds, choose a fruit-forward wine with very soft tannins.

Pairing Pointers

Go for lighter styles of "new world" Sauvignon Blanc, redolent with ripe citrus notes, smooth texture, and a kiss of vanilla-scented oak. Another good choice is ripe but unoaked Chardonnay, which hints at sweetness with its tree and tropical fruit notes but stays dry to the tongue. But the best choice, in my opinion, is an off dry Riesling or Chenin Blanc, which dances on the tightrope of sweet/sour, mirroring the personality of the plum sauce and cutting the richness of the duck.

If you prefer reds, Grenache, ripe Shiraz and Zinfandel all have a plummy, jam-berry fruit-forward nature that will pick up on the sauce's primary character. The have enough richness and creamy character to complement the duck's unctuousness. Avoid big tannins at all cost—they will stiffen when you taste the sweet sauce, and mask the duck's subtlety.

The Recipe

The Food Lab's Peking Duck with Mandarin Pancakes and Plum Sauce »

Evan's Wine Picks


Pacific Rim Columbia Valley Chenin Blanc (2008): zippy and just off-dry with green apple and dry ginger notes. (Around $10, find this wine.)

Efeste 'Evergreen' Riesling Columbia Valley (2009): a jewel of a Northwestern wine, off dry and full of pretty pear/apple fruit. (Around $16, find this wine.)

von Hövel Riesling Kabinett (2009): zesty and smooth Mosel riesling with white floral notes and hints of peaches or other stone fruit. (Around $20, find this wine.)


Layer Cake South Australia Shiraz (2009): creamy, smooth, and packed with deep black fruit and soft tannins. (Around $13, find this wine.)

Stolpman Santa Ynez Valley Grenache (2008): The perfect plum sauce wine, bursting with bright berry fruit. (Around $29, find this wine.)