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Apr 6, 2007 07:39 AM

Chicken Marsala Pairing?

I'm making dinner for my father-in-law this weekend and his absolute favorite meal is chicken marsala with mashed potatoes. I'll be making a variation of chicken marsala that includes prosciutto, the mashed potatoes will have a lot of roasted garlic in them, and I plan to roast some fresh asparagus in olive oil and kosher salt, and possibly add a drizzle of truffle oil (I'm haven't decided if I should use white or black yet with these flavors).

My question is this, he and his wife are not huge wine drinkers, but I would like to offer a great wine that will pair well with this meal. I think it needs to be very drinkable and not too dry or heavy on the tannins for it to be palettable to them. Also, for our sake, it needs to be affordable. I'm really not sure what route to choose and I would greatly appreciate any advice.


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  1. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or both are probably your best bets here.

    In general, until you get to the marsala sauce the majority of this meal is a great match for chardonnay given the chicken, garlic, and asparagus ingredients. Given that Marsala is sort of a "red wine sauce" makes pinot noir a possibility also, especially if the chicken is cooked "duck style" with skin and fat intact.

    Also the presence of truffle which is extremely friendly to pinot noir.

    Both are available at popular prices. If you can afford both, do both because these are the great wines of burgundy and in that sense are sort of "sister wines".

    To bring the dish a bit closer to chardonnay, you might add: a) butter somewhere... in the potatoes, in the marsala sauce, etc. b) add some "smokey" back notes, perhaps off a smokey grill for example c) add some walnut bits or dust to the asparagus, and/or some walnut oil to the asparagus grill d) add a small cheese course including chevre and gruyere

    To bring the dish a bit closer to pinot noir you might: a) grill it b) add a small cheese course including chevre, aged cheddar, and roquefort.

    As an alternative or addition to the cheese course you could add a bit of the above cheeses (depending on the wine(s) selected), to the sauce for the asparagus.


    4 Replies
    1. re: Chicago Mike

      Wow, awesome information; thank you! There will absolutely be butter used in both the chicken and potatoes and we were considering grilling the chicken, so a chardonnay sounds like a perfect match for us. I may just skip the truffle oil on the asparaugs and go with walnut oil instead to round out the parings. Thanks for your help!

      1. re: sarahjh

        It's nice you're making your FIL's favorite dish -- Chicken Marsala. The prosciutto in it makes me think Pinot Noir too -- though a good quality one [we're agreeing here, Mike].

        Keep the truffle oil drizzle on the grilled asparagus -- it's fantastic, absolutely classic and will make the dish pair better with the Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir and mushrooms/truffles is a classic pairing. Even with the mushrooms in the Marsala, I’d still stick with the truffle oil. No need to add walnuts -- the dish is perfect, as is, and doesn’t need anything more going on.

        I know it's been suggested, and you're considering it, but don't grill the chicken -- Marsala is a stovetop-cooked dish and the dish gets its flavor from the chicken being cooked IN the sauce. Make the classic Marsala that is your FIL's favorite meal, with your added tweak of prosciutto. Keeping the skin on would just create a flabby mess, and there is no opportunity here to crisp/sear the skin, as you would duck.

        No need to "add" butter (say what?) -- it's a given: smashed potatoes and Marsala always have butter.

        Likewise, don’t sauce the asparagus (see above) or add a cheese course. You’ve already got a butter sauce going on with the Marsala, butter in the mashed potatoes, and you don’t want two butter/cheese sauces at one meal and a cheese course. If these dishes weren’t being served, a few shavings of Reggiano over the top of the asparagus would be lovely, but here it’s too too…

        A Chard will work also, as suggested, with this meal -- but watch your choice here (there are many horrid ones) and aim for a low-ML, un-smokey/un-oaky one with very fine fruit. (BTW, I don't often recommend Chard, but it may be very tasty here and if it's a wine you like, all the better.) The mushrooms will work very well with the Chard, and the roasted garlic/smashed potatoes (oh man, these are good!) will do fine with either wine.

        Perhaps make a dessert using the first glorious strawberries of spring, or whatever
        is at peak right now that you can get your hands on. After all the butter, I'd keep the dessert on the light side. Have a lovely time. I hope your FIL and wife (and you two!) enjoy yourselves.

        1. re: maria lorraine

          As for "to grill or not to grill"... you could actually do both... grill for a few mins to impart some smoky grilling taste notes, then finish in the pan, no problem.

          And I'll take this opportunity to put in another plug for serving BOTH chardonnay and pinot noir with this dish :)... it's a tremendous opportunity to try both and compare and contrast the different tasting impressions that each bring to the dish! These don't have to be expensive wines either... just mid-shelf quality is fine as you're shooting for the food/wine matchup, not the wine on it's own.

          As the other poster mentioned, if you are fond of truffle in this dish, by all means bring it.... probably subltle truffle is better than overbearing here.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          I'm in the same what-wine-to-serve-with-chicken-marsala quandry. And my recipe calls for sweet marsala. What would you recommend?

          1. re: CindyJ

            Maybe an inexpensive off-dry German riesling, or an off-dry Lambrusco (the Italian stuff, not the made-for-export super-sweet version).

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Can you please clarify what you mean by "off-dry" -- maybe give a couple of examples, too. Thanks. (Unfortunately, I didn't see your reply in time for dinner last night.)

              1. re: CindyJ

                Off dry means around one to four percent residual sugar. You'd have to ask in a wine shop about particular German wines, they can vary from vintage to vintage.

            2. re: CindyJ

              Robert's question is Interesting. I always thought Chicken Marsala was made with dry marsala in the classic Italian manner, but I have just now checked a dozen recipes online and a few (Cooks Illustrated, notably) use the sweet. Most recipes call for a 1/2 cup per two-person serving. Cooks Illustrated uses lemon to temper the sweetness so the classic, dry wine pairings may hold. If the amount of sweetness after cooking is enough to cause a dry wine wine taste "sour" the off-dry Riesling might be just the ticket.

              You may wish to read these previous Marsala threads:

              1. re: maria lorraine

                That's EXACTLY the recipe I used last night, and I followed it precisely. I had actually clipped the recipe from Cooks Illustrated sometime in 2000, and filed it in a binder I keep with clipped recipes. According to the notes I've added over the years, I've tried the recipe both with and without the pancetta, and it's markedly improved WITH the pancetta. Likewise, I've tried both sweet and dry marsala, and have found that the combination of sweet marsala with a small amount of lemon juice add nicely to the complexity of the flavors.

                The wine was another story. I ended up opening a bottle of pinot noir and it was very clearly NOT the right pairing. I didn't want to start experimenting with other wines at that point, so although the meal was delicious, it was less than complete.

            3. re: Robert Lauriston

              Sorry for the delay. I tried to post after work yesterday and I wasn't able to log in successfully until just now for some reason.

              I read several threads on here about sweet vs. dry on chowhound and I found the official Florio chicken marsala recipe, which calls for dry, so that's what I went with.