White meat such as chicken and fish are typically paired with white wines, but there are other factors to consider when choosing the perfect vino to complement your meal. Baked chicken Parmesan is a breaded meat dish with the robust flavors of garlic, basil and tomato and, as such, it can handle a bigger wine. Taking into account the seasonings in the meal as well as the season outside your window will also help to balance your personal preference with the dominant flavors of this classic Italian dish.
1. Setting and Season
Only a relatively small amount of wine is actually consumed during a meal, with most drinking occurring before and after. Start by asking yourself what you like to drink, and then consider the occasion at hand. Is this a celebration or a casual dinner for two? Because chicken Parmesan pairs well with either red or white, you have a greater degree of flexibility.
2. The Weight Issue
As a general rule, heavy foods pair well with heavier wines. Consider the process involved when cooking chicken Parmesan: the meat is coated in a buttery breading and smothered in rich cheese. The amount of fat in both the meat and the sauce is the most important factor when considering the weight of a dish. While the chicken itself is low in fat, the ingredients and method of preparation are not. The acidity of a light wine such as a crisp sauvignon blanc would be overrun by the buttery richness of this dish.
3. Flavors of the Dish
More than the meat itself, the main flavors in the sauce and preparation of a dish merit consideration. Choose flavors that complement, rather than overwhelm. Chicken is a relatively meek presence among the strong flavors of provolone, mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano. All cheese pairs well with a dry rose, a good choice when serving this dish on a warm summer night. A toasty chardonnay will match the browned and bubbling cheese and the peppery notes found in a medium-bodied pinot noir will stand up to the bold spices of your red sauce.
4. Italian White or Red
When in doubt, matching Italian cuisine with Italian wine makes for successful pairings because, over time, wine has evolved to match the food of the region where it is made. Chianti is a light, fruity red made mostly from the Sangiovese grape in the region of Tuscany. As a lightweight red, it pairs well with baked chicken Parmesan, as would a medium-bodied barbera. Italian whites that can hold up to rich sauces might be a bit more difficult to find. Look for a medium to heavy Chablis or pinot grigio or try a Vernaccia from Italy's Tuscany region.