A rich, buttery foie gras spread on toasted baguette is one of the world’s finest pleasures. Of course, you’ll need to find just the right glass of wine to accompany this delicacy. Although foie gras is traditionally paired with Sauternes, there are several other options and flavor directions to pursue. Follow the suggestions below for some alternatives to sweet wines that will brilliantly complement the wide array of flavors in foie gras.
Tips for Wine Pairing with Foie Gras
Foie gras, which means “fatty liver” in French, was discovered by the ancient Egyptians, who found that duck and geese who feasted on the fertile banks of the Nile had the most delicious livers. They began to replicate the feeding process. The practice spread through the ancient world until it reached Gaul, where it took root as a delicacy for kings and noblemen. It has since become emblematic of French gastronomy and represents the height of culinary culture and sophistication.
Foie gras is duck or goose liver that is fattened through a process called gavage. The result is a silky smooth texture and rich taste. You can find foie gras whole, as pâté, or as a mousse. It is served in terrines or pan-seared, as an appetizer or an entrée. Foie gras made from goose liver is considered more refined and has a milder taste, whereas duck foie gras tends to have a gamier flavor and slightly less fat.
Livers are graded for quality. Grade “A” foie gras offers the smoothest texture, with the most consistent and delicate flavors. Grade “B” is also delicious, but it works best for mousses and terrines, where small defects like blood-spotting can be hidden.
The traditional way to serve foie gras is with a sweet alcohol like Sauternes or Armagnac, but it also complements a wide range of dry whites, aged reds, and Champagne. As a general guide, think about the foods that would go well with a rich food like foie gras — dark berries and herbs come immediately to mind — and then find wines that feature those flavor profiles. Acid and structure are also great counterpoints to a fatty dish like goose liver.
Best Wines for Foie Gras
Foie gras pairs well with many different wines. You can stick to a more traditional pairing or branch out and try some new flavor combinations depending on your individual tastes and the occasion.
Sauternes is a sweet wine with captivating notes of apricot, butterscotch, caramel, ginger, and citrus. It is the traditional choice to pair with foie gras because it stands up well to rich and creamy textures. Try a selection from Chateau Rieussec or Chateau d'Yquem.
Rieslings can range widely from dry to very sweet depending on when in the season the grapes are harvested. They’re fragrant and fruity, with a high acidity that balances the richness of the foie gras. Try a wonderful late-harvest Riesling Spatlese, such as those from P. Licht Bergweiler. Or for a richer, more decadent Riesling, go for an Auslese ("select harvest") Riesling, such as a selection from Markus Molitor.
This Austrian wine offers a lot of acidity with herbal, peppery flavors. At once citrus and earthy, Grüner Veltliner counters the richness of the liver while also capturing some of its depth.
Pinot Gris offers notes of stone fruit, citrus, and pepper, the perfect complement to a rich and fatty liver. This pinkish grape mutation of Pinot Noir is zesty and often recommended as a fresh foie gras pairing because of its high acidity. Nearly every part of the world has terroir in which Pinot Gris thrives with its own unique expression. Try one from Alsace, Oregon, or even New Zealand!
The effervescence and acidity of a fine Champagne is another wonderful pairing with foie gras, both as an appetizer and during the main course. It's hard to find something that doesn't pair well with those magical bubbles, and foie gras is no exception.
Chardonnay accentuates the creamy, buttery texture of foie gras. Look for versions of Chardonnay where the oak is less dominant. Those from Chablis or Burgundy have a more crisp, mineral flavor profile to serve as counterpoint to the velvety foie gras.
Chenin Blanc is another high-acid white that helps to balance the rich butteriness of the liver. Like Riesling, Chenin Blanc offers a diverse spectrum of both dry and sweet wines, with notes of apple, quince, pear and honey to complement to the foie gras.
Although there are several strong white options for pairing with foie gras, you can also go red for something a little different. A structured, full-bodied red like Bordeaux balances the richness of the liver. The dark fruit and herbal notes also bring out the earthy flavors of duck and goose. Try a well-aged Right Bank Bordeaux from Pomerol or Saint-Emilion.
Barolo is a very full-bodied, tannic red produced in Italy’s Piedmont region with Nebbiolo grapes. It has a lot of acidity and alcohol, so it balances subtle and fatty foods like foie gras. Barolo has notes of berries, rose, and licorice, which accentuates the flavors in the liver.
Choose the Perfect Wine
You can find all of these wines available at JJ Buckley Fine Wines, which has wine to purchase for all of your pairing needs. For more personalized recommendations, JJ Buckley’s consultancy services can advise you on just the right bottle for your foie gras. Their knowledgeable wine specialists provide honest, impartial advice without pretension.