In the history of all things Italian-American, among the greats are Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and chicken parmesan. The classic dish of a breaded chicken cutlet over a plate of spaghetti has been a staple in American Italian restaurants for decades — but it's not a traditional Italian dish.
Born out of Italian-American kitchens on the east coast of the United States, chicken parmesan was likely inspired by the traditional Southern Italian dish parmigiana di melanzane (eggplant parmesan). It became popular in the 1950s, and The New York Times published the first official recipe in 1962.
Now, it's all over the world. Australians serve it as pub food with fries and salad. In England, it's topped with béchamel sauce and cheddar cheese. And in the United States, it remains classic, topped with a generous helping of red sauce and mozzarella or provolone cheese and often accompanied by spaghetti and meatballs.
But what wine goes best with this vintage Italian-American creation? Let's explore.
Tips for Pairing Wine with Chicken Parmesan
Chicken parmesan is an uncomplicated dish. Considering this, wine lovers should look for straightforward, timeless wines that have found themselves on the tables of Kings and humble families alike. This is truly a dish where less is more. So it should be with your wine choice. Here are a few things to consider:
- Choose a fruit-forward wine with more acidity to balance the bold flavors of chicken parmesan.
- Wines with lower tannins are also recommended, as they'll make for a better match with the protein.
- If the sauce changes — as in the case of the English chicken parm — think about adjusting your wine choice.
Learning more about the logic of wine pairing will help you decide what fits your unique needs.
4 Fantastic Wine Pairings That Work with Chicken Parmesan
While chicken parmesan doesn't require complicated wine pairings, it does lend itself to a pairing with some of the world's finest wines. The light, flexible flavor profile and texture of chicken often partners well with white wine. However, the sweet, bright flavors of the red sauce, crispy fried coating of breadcrumbs, and smooth texture of mozzarella invite an array of red wine pairings to try.
Here are four chicken parmesan wine pairings that will delight any palate.
1. Chianti Classico
The thing that distinguishes an ordinary Chianti and a Chianti Classico lies in the legally required ratio of Sangiovese grapes to other varietals in the wine. While some Chiantis may have up to 100% Sangiovese grapes, they're only required to have 70% Sangiovese to be officially labeled as Chianti. Chianti Classico, however, must have at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. Therefore, choosing a Chianti Classico ensures a higher concentration of Sangiovese for your pairing.
The Sangiovese grapes used in Chianti Classico pair exceptionally well with red sauce dishes such as lasagna, pasta with tomato sauce, and chicken parmesan. It complements the sweet tomato sauce with fruit notes such as cherry and plum. It also cuts through the assertive elements of crisp breading and creamy mozzarella, allowing the flavor of the juicy chicken to step forward instead of being overwhelmed by its toppings.
When choosing a true Chianti Classico, be sure to look for the black rooster or gallo nero, on the neck of the bottle. This is part of the official labeling requirement for Chianti.
2. Pinot Noir
Pinot noir is probably one of the most versatile red wines out there, found on pairing menus for seafood, white meat, red meat, and vegetarian dishes alike. This medium to light-bodied varietal doesn't overwhelm the palate with its flavors. But don't let that lighter body trick you into thinking it isn't full of flavor.
Pinot noir is fruit-forward, already making it a companion with a semi-sweet red sauce. The acidity in Pinot noir is what makes it so great for this wine-chicken-parmesan pairing. Acidic fruit flavors such as cherry and raspberry awaken palates and literally make your mouth water. This acidity cuts through the bold flavors of a hearty red sauce and blends with them, rather than allowing the sauce to overwhelm the wine. The tannins in Pinot noir are also smoother than in other red wines, ensuring that your palate doesn't dry out while enjoying your chicken parmesan.
While Barbera wines may be dark in color, their lighter flavor and palate weight is another excellent choice for a chicken parmesan wine pairing. Barbera also makes for a fascinating choice because of its history. While it's not often seen in America, it is a regular on Italian tables and is the third most planted grape in Italy. It's also nearly a thousand years older than Cabernet Sauvignon.
Barbera wine is another varietal notable for its light-bodied fruit character and acidity. Again, these traits complement the red sauce of chicken parmesan while cutting through some of the domineering elements of the dish. The Barbera grape grows in the Piedmont region of Italy, well known for the Nebbiolo grape that produces coveted Barbaresco and Barolo wines.
4. Sparkling Wine
Variations on chicken parmesan may not always come with a hearty red sauce. A chicken parmesan without red sauce is akin to an Italian-American fried chicken, and fried chicken pairs wonderfully with sparkling wine. Some versions of this dish may even bake their chicken for a healthier option. One way or the other, a dry, crisp, acidic sparkling wine will delight white wine lovers.
A prosecco is a fantastic choice. The sweet, floral nature of prosecco's green apple and honeysuckle flavors pair with the juicy chicken and will even combine well with a lighter red sauce. There's also a toasted breadiness to prosecco that finds its way into the crisp coating on the chicken and helps to bring it to life.
Classic Wines For Classic Dishes
No matter the dish, whether it's a refined Michelin-worthy meal or a home-cooked favorite, JJ Buckley has the perfect wine pairing. Our wine experts curate our collections with our client's needs in mind. We bring in quality wine from around the world for you to serve at your table with family, friends, and colleagues alike. Contact our wine consultants for help in elevating your next meal with the perfect fine wine from our cellars.