Parmesan sauce is tomato-based, meaning it won’t pair well with wines that are high in tannin. Tannin combined with tomatoes makes everything taste metallic, which is not appealing. Thus, you need a red wine that is acidic, such as Pinot Noir, Chianti, or Primitivo. Acidic wines won’t clash with the acidity of a rich tomato sauce, nor will they overpower the taste of the chicken beneath the Parmesan sauce.
Chianti Classico & Chicken Parmesan
Chianti is a Sangiovese grape based red wine, and comes across as spicy, tart and herbaceous. The herbaceous notes complement any herbs you may have added to the Parmesan sauce, while the spice and tartness help liven up the somewhat neutral chicken within the sauce. Sangiovese is low in tannin and high in acidity so it won’t clash with the tomato based Parmesan sauce.
Italian Barbera and Chicken Parmigiana
Barbera isn’t a showboat wine, rather it’s meant to be a light easy drinking wine to be paired with food. Low in alcohol, this wine won’t weigh you down when paired with the rich sauce of Chicken Parmesan. We find it goes well as it has lots of acidity to cut through the rich sauce with herbaceous notes that complement the earthy Parmesan flavours.
Pinot Noir and Baked Chicken Parmesan
An acidic Pinot Noir also has an herbal component that meshes well with the herbal notes of a Parmesan sauce. Aside from being fruity, Pinot Noir has an earthy quality that complements the earthy notes you’ll find in Parmesan cheese.
Primitivo and Chicken Parmigiana
Primitivo is an easy drinking red with warm flavours of plum, dried cherries, and is soft in tannin. The lack of tannin helps it pair well with anything tomato based. On the nose you’ll find smoke, black pepper, licorice, star anise, earthy clove which complements the earthy aspects of Parmesan cheese.
If Primitivo isn’t readily available, pick up a Californian Zinfandel. The grapes are nearly identical, except with a California Zin you’ll lose a bit of that rustic Italian charm and add a lot more jammy richness.
Montepulciano and Chicken Parmesan
A Montepulciano that hasn’t been aged in oak is alive with red fruit flavours of sour cherry, cranberry and raspberry jam. This helps elevate the pairing as it adds a bit of depth to the neutral chicken flavours. Meanwhile, Monticello is acidic enough to handle the rich tomato sauce and complements any herbs you may have added with its notes of dried herbs and ash-like earthiness on the nose. We suggest an un-oaked Monticello, as the oaked variant will have grippy tannin that might clash with the rich tomato-based sauce.
White Wine and Chicken Parmesan
As for a white wine pairing, we haven’t come across any white wines that are excellent with Chicken Parmesan. We find the cheesy and herbal sauce to be too rich and overpowering for most white wines. In a pinch, an Italian Pinot Grigio or Soave will pair just fine, however, it won’t be excellent. If the Chicken Parmesan is served on a bed of buttered pasta, a toasty Chardonnay will a bit of butter flavour taste fantastic.
Sparkling wine is another candidate for Chicken Parmesan, especially if the chicken has been breaded and fried. The sparkling bubbles shear right through the greasy chicken, and while sparkling wine doesn’t have enough body to completely hold up to the rich sauce, the pairing is still enjoyable.
If your Chicken Parmigiana has a little heat to it (spice-wise), try a Sparkling Red Lambrusco. Lambrusco is bubbly and slightly sweet, so you get the cleansing action of the bubbles to cut through the rich sauce, while the sweetness puts a bit of that fire out in your mouth.
Weissbier and Chicken Parmesan
Our favourite beer pairing with Chicken Parmesan would be Weissbier. Here we have a beer that is light & refreshing, but also has notes of clove, banana and bubblegum. The clove like notes complement the browned and earthy Parmesan in the cheese. Meanwhile the crisp acidic nature of this beer cuts through any spices as well as the heavy sauce.
For other beer recommendations, we recommend lighter beers, like a wheat beer, lager or pilsner. Chicken Parmesan is a heavy dish and filling. If you pair with a beer high in alcohol, you’ll have a difficult time making it to the end of your plate and finishing the beer.