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Dec 20, 2005
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Wine With . . . Roast Duck

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas


Roast duck, with its crispy skin and succulent meat, is an old-fashioned winter treat.  More flavorful than turkey but not as gamey as goose, it's just the thing to serve when the winds start howling and the snow begins to fall.  So when a sudden blast of artic weather hit the east coast a couple of weeks ago, we decided to make it--and find out what sort of wines go best with it.


Since we like the rich flavor of the unadorned bird, we tend to prefer roast duck without the traditional fruit sauce.  On this occasion, we used a technique inspired by a recipe from the Food Network internet site, first simmering the bird in a blend of half chicken stock, half water for about forty-five minutes to render some of the fat, and then roasting it at a high temperature (450°) to get the skin crisp and golden.  We served the duck with potatoes that had cooked in the same pan, and a warm, mustardy cabbage slaw.  And we opened thirteen wines--eight red, four white, and one dry rosé.


The results?  Well, we found that roast duck is the most versatile dish we've featured so far in "Wine With. . ."  No wine really clashed with it.  A genteel German Riesling wasn't overwhelmed, and a powerful California Cabernet didn't seem too heavy.  A spicy, oaky Chardonnay worked fine, as did a jammy Australian Shiraz.  None of these wines, though, really enhanced the dish.  They tasted good, but we were always aware of two separate sets of flavors when we tried them with the duck.  By contrast, the wines we're highlighting displayed flavors that truly integrated with the dish.  They made the food taste better, which in turn made them taste better too.  The one surprise was how well the white wines worked.  We had expected the reds to show better (which is why we tried so many more of them), but two of our five favorites turned out to be white.  It turns out that roast duck, while certainly rich, also has a subtle side, one that these more delicate wines brought to the fore. 



Approx. Price



JB Adam,










The hint of sweetness and fresh fruit in this wine do much the same thing for the duck as a fruit-based sauce--without being heavy or cloying.  As a further bonus, the wine's generous texture mirrors the delicious fattiness of the bird.  Anyone who thinks that Gewurztraminer is a difficult wine to pair with food (a complaint we sometimes hear) should try it with roast duck!




Pinot Noir

Santa Maria Valley







This combo also echoed the long-favored pairing of duck and fruit, again without seeming cumbersome.  In this case, the synergy between the bird and the wine's subtle cherry and vanilla flavors provided a gustatory experience akin to the classic French dish, Canard au Cerises (Duck with Cherries).



Santa Rita,



Valle del Rapel



(Imported by Vineyard Brands)






Carmenère is a varietal that frequently tastes of dried herbs in addition to fruit, and that suggestion can add something special to roast fowl (think of what sage does in stuffing with chicken or turkey).  This Santa Rita Reserva kicked in a whole tasty bouquet garni of herbal flavors, including parsley, mint, oregano, and more.



Tablas Creek Vineyard,


Paso Robles










When partnered with the bird, this Rhône-inspired white was a mellower, more nuanced player than the Chardonnays we tried.  It tasted smooth and elegant, with just enough palate-cleansing acidity to balance the richness of the duck.  A very impressive match!



Zaca Mesa,

"Z Cuvée"

Santa Ynez Valley,









A vibrant blend of southern French varieties (Grenache, Mourvédre, Syrah, and Cinsault), this wine was comfortably soft on the palate, and had an earthy edge that brought out the robust, pleasingly earthy quality of the roast duck.