Meat, Game and Poultry

Pairing Wine with Meat courses

Red wine with meat is still a useful rule. However, when you add sauces or other flavorings, you need to consider them as well. Some types of meat seem to have a particular affinity with wines made from certain grapes—lamb goes well with Cabernet Sauvignon or Rioja reds, for example, while pork and rabbit taste good with Pinot Noir or Rhône wines. For game and for most poultry dishes, the sauce and herbal flavorings make a considerable difference when choosing wine. White wine or even dry rosé will be the right choice with poultry on occasion, but red wine can work well, too.


There are many wines that taste good with beef. As a general rule, good red wine goes well with plainly cooked beef. By experimenting with sauces and flavorings, you can choose from powerful Cabernets, Zinfandels, Barolos and Super-Tuscan red wines from Italy, or lighter reds, such as Merlot and Pinot Noir.

Grilled beef is a good excuse to bring out hearty, full-flavored red wines, such as Zinfandel or Syrah/Shiraz from California or Australia. Southern Rhône, Languedoc or Provençal French red wines would also be good.

An off-dry Riesling, unoaked Sauvignon Blanc from California or even a young Zinfandel will work well with beef curry.

An intriguing wine challenge, a hamburger often comes with ketchup, pickles, onions and perhaps mayonnaise. The temptation is to go for something cheap, but a Syrah, a young Cabernet or a fruity red Zinfandel (all from California) can work well.

With calves' liver, try a red Rioja from Spain; a lighter Pinot Noir from Oregon, California's Russian River Valley or Anderson Valley; or a young Merlot.

Meat Loaf 
With this American classic, try a young Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile or a fruity Merlot from Washington state.

Rich roast beef calls for the best. Pull the cork on a top red Bordeaux from France, a good California Cabernet Sauvignon, or one of the better French Rhônes or Italian Barolos.

Steak is always a red wine dish. The seasoning used will determine which red wine, but you can't go wrong with a good red Bordeaux, a California or Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, a Washington state Merlot, an Argentine Malbec or a Spanish Rioja.

Beef-based stews, from classic French beef bourguignonne to homely beef goulash, are rich dishes that demand an equally rich wine, but one with some elegance and acidity. A good red Burgundy from France, a California Pinot Noir, a Spanish Rioja, an Australian Shiraz or a big California Zinfandel would all be good partners.


Red Burgundy from France is the classic match with game. Below are a few more suggestions for specific types of game.

Serve wild duck with a Syrah from the Rhône in France or from California, or with a Washington state Merlot.

Depending on the stuffing or sauce, an Oregon Pinot Noir, Beaujolais from France or Washington state Merlot would all work well with quail. If you prefer a white wine, choose an elegant Chardonnay with some oak.

With this fairly mild-flavored meat, try an Italian Chianti, a light red Burgundy or a good Beaujolais from France. For the classic rabbit in mustard sauce, you might like to try a white, such as a Pinot Gris from Oregon or a grassy Sauvignon Blanc from California.

You need massive red wine with this rich, flavorful meat. Open a cru classé French Bordeaux, a California Cabernet Sauvignon or a top French Rhône.


In general, lamb is a very wine-friendly food. It has a great affinity with the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, used in red wines from Bordeaux and California. In Spain, Rioja is often served with lamb. California Zinfandel, Washington state Merlot, Australian Shiraz, Rhône reds and good Chiantis also work.

Zinfandel, young Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot from California and Rioja are good choices with broiled lamb. For a Middle Eastern-style kabob with spicy sauces, reach for the brighter flavors of Cabernet Franc, Syrah from California or Shiraz from Australia.

With lamb chops, serve a mature Spanish Rioja, a Cabernet Sauvignon from California or a Washington state Merlot.

A classic match would be a mature red Bordeaux from France (traditionally Pauillac), a first-rate California Cabernet Sauvignon or a red Rioja Reserva from Spain. Steer clear of the classic mint sauce with lamb—the vinegar in the sauce will spoil the taste of the wine.

This richly flavored dish is perfect with Spanish Rioja, a Rhône red from France, Syrah/Shiraz from California or Australia, or a big Zinfandel.

A stew with big flavors needs a wine to match it, such as a reserve Chianti from Italy, a California Cabernet Sauvignon or a Zinfandel. With a more subtly flavored stew, try a Merlot or Syrah from Washington state or California.


With its underlying sweetness, pork is a more difficult match than beef or lamb, and is often cooked with spices that are not wine friendly. The best bet is usually a younger low-tannin wine (white or red) with some acidity and fruit that can match the flavor profile of many pork dishes.

Baked Ham 
Side dishes apart, an Alsatian Gewürztraminer, an off-dry Riesling from Washington State or Germany, or a fruity young California Merlot will work with baked ham.

Some of the hottest barbecue sauces are lavished on pork, which can make choosing a wine hard. Try a semidry California Riesling or a chilled white Zinfandel.

A full-flavored Pinot Noir from California's Central Coast is a good choice, as is a spicy Australian Shiraz.

Dried Ham 
With Italian or Spanish ham, dry rosé or a juicy young Grenache-based red from the south of France would work well.

A good match for roast pork is Pinot Noir from California, red Burgundy from France, red Ribera del Duero from Spain or a full-bodied red from the Rhône in France.


Some meat flavors match perfectly with certain grape varieties. In the poultry category, duck and chicken are a great match with Chardonnay.

Simple roast chicken goes with anything from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir. It won't take a big red, but a roast bird seasoned with rosemary and garlic pairs well with Merlot, French Beaujolais (not nouveau) or a light Australian Shiraz. With curried chicken, try an Alsatian Gewürztraminer or a dry California sparkler; chicken in tarragon or mustard sauce is fine with a light red, such as Cabernet Franc, or an oaky Chardonnay from California or Australia. Fried chicken calls for a dry rosé from Spain or southern France, or a fruity California Sauvignon Blanc. With coq au vin, serve a better version of the wine it is cooked in.

Domestic duck is milder and sweeter than wild duck. Try it with a Washington state Merlot, an Italian Chianti, a California Syrah or a buttery California Chardonnay.

The richness of goose demands a good wine, such as a top red Burgundy. However, it is often served with sweet side dishes, in which case a sweetish German Riesling might be a good option. In the mid-range, you could try a California Pinot Noir, a good red Rhône or an Australian Shiraz.

The first choice with this slightly sweet meat is a fruity California Zinfandel, which can handle any of the traditional turkey stuffings and pairs well with the meat itself.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Guides, The Wine Guide, (Time-Life Books, 1999).

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