Liver and Onions pairs best with red wines such as Amarone, Côtes du Rhône, Shiraz, Merlot and Zinfandel. Since Liver and Onions is a sweet dish, you can go two ways with it. You can pair Beef Liver and Onions with wines that taste sweet, such as Amarone, Ripasso, or Zinfandel. Or you can complement the earthy and iron flavours of Liver and Onions with earthier reds such as Côtes du Rhône, Chianti, and Barbera.
Best Wine with Liver and Onions
Amarone & Liver and Onions Pairing
Beef Liver is a rich and gamey meat that tastes a lot like iron and minerals, which should be no surprise as Liver chock full of vitamins and minerals. The texture and flavour are off-putting to many, however, when combined with a syrupy and powerful red like Amarone, you might warm up to this entrée if you were never a fan before.
Amarone is a loud red wine with high levels of alcohol, however, the bitter chocolate, cherry and raisin flavours fool you into not noticing how potent this wine is. Blackberries, dried fruit, raspberries, spice and smoke all make Amarone a joy to eat with Liver and Onions as it complements the sweetness of the dish. Meanwhile, the rich and velvety texture covers up the unpleasant flavours of the Calves Liver that not everybody loves.
Amarone has some complementary flavours, such as minerals, tar, licorice, and leather, which ensure the liver’s earthier flavours aren’t completely wiped out.
Amarone is expensive, so if you don’t want to invest too much in this wine, but want something similar, go for a Ripasso Valpolicella, which is often referred to as a ‘baby Amarone’ and often half the price or less.
Fun Fact, in the film Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter states that “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”, which has become one of the most quotable lines out there. In the book, the original wine is Amarone, which is a more classic liver and wine pairing. The movie producers switched Amarone to Chianti as they felt audiences would be more familiar with that wine. Still, Chianti works great with Liver, which we will discuss further below.
Côtes du Rhône & Liver and Onions Pairing
A Côtes du Rhône red wine can be up to 23 blended grapes, however, Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre are typically the dominant grapes. Raspberry and strawberry flavours offer a refreshing alternative to the gamey and rich flavours of the beef liver. Notes of smoke, earth, herbs, black pepper, meat, and licorice complement the liver flavours, or help add to the complexity of this pairing. Côtes du Rhône can even have an ‘iron’ bite, which further complements the Liver flavours.
With Côtes du Rhône, expect wines that are medium-bodied and moderate in volume. Thus, with Côtes du Rhône, you won’t be masking the strong iron and rich flavours of the calves liver but rather complementing the flavours.
In most instances, Côtes du Rhône is relatively inexpensive and ranges from $8-$26. For better quality and a few dollars more, seek out a Côtes du Rhône Villages, which has higher standards and a better taste profile. For a bolder Rhône red wine, seek out a Châteauneuf-du-Pape which showcases complex flavours of cooked cherry, blackberry and raspberry, herbs, meat, black pepper, licorice, tar, and smoke.
Shiraz & Liver and Onions Pairing
With the powerful flavours of both the Liver and the onions, this dish is a notoriously difficult entrée to match with wine. Australian Shiraz is known for being a powerhouse of jammy fruits such as blackberry, plum, and raspberries which help mask the strong flavours of the Liver. On top of that, you’ll find dark chocolate, black pepper, and smoke that complement the liver’s earthier side.
If you enjoy the iron and earthy flavours of Liver, go with a French Syrah, which turns down the fruit levels and ups the meaty, herbal and savoury flavours of the wine. Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape, but in different countries, the styles vary. If your Liver and Onions dish contains bacon, I would go with a Syrah over an Australian Shiraz as Syrah has a more dominant bacon flavour to it that is irresistible with bacon.
Zinfandel & Liver and Onions Pairing
With Zinfandel, the goal is to complement the sweetness of the Liver and Onions as well as to help mask the iron and mineral flavours that you may find unpleasant. Zinfandel can range from medium to full-bodied and is often described as a ‘fruit bomb’. If you enjoy the taste of Liver and Onions, reach for a medium-bodied Zinfandel, however, if you can’t stand the taste, a full-bodied Zinfandel will do the trick.
With Zinfandel, you are going to find jammy flavours of blackberry, raspberry, plum, blueberry and strawberries that will coat your tongue with their lush flavours. Smoke and black pepper are also hidden beneath the surface, and these flavours will do quite well with the earthy side of the Liver.
Chianti & Liver and Onions Pairing
Chianti is an Italian red wine that is adored for its bright cherry flavours and its rustic charm. While cherries dominate the palate, hidden beneath the fruit you’ll find earth, herbs licorice, meat, mineral and smoke. All of these rustic flavours complement the iron and rich gamey flavours of your calves liver.
Chianti is quite acidic, which makes it food-friendly, and is primarily made from the Sangiovese grape. I often opt for Chianti Classico, which is 80% Sangiovese. Chianti Reserva will be 70% Sangiovese and may be blended in with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which is tasty but doesn’t deliver that Sangiovese trip I’m after.
Rich, smooth and soft, Chianti Classico has moderate flavours that won’t interfere with the taste of the Liver but provides plenty of fruit to keep you refreshed in between bites.