Greek Moussaka pairs best with rich, peppery and lighter red wines such as Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Barbera, Zinfandel, or a young Greek Xinomavro. Middle-Eastern Moussaka often contains a meaty tomato sauce, which makes acidic red wines a must! For both styles of Moussaka, you’ll want medium-bodied reds as heavier wines will crush the intricate flavours of your Moussaka.
Moussaka is a popular eggplant/potato dish where you’ll find thinly sliced eggplant and/or potato layered with minced beef or lamb. The dish is then typically baked, which draws out some very delicious flavours within every bite. Every country has its own variation, and in our matches, we are assuming that you have eggplant and meat. Our pairings will also work if your Moussaka contains a tomato sauce as we are opting for acidic wines. Wines heavy in tannin will crush Moussaka’s baked vegetable flavours and taste like tin when paired with anything tomato-like.
For wine pairings, stick to inexpensive wines. Aged wines usually contain oak that adds complex flavours. With oak, however, comes tannin, and too much tannin might overwhelm the baked flavours of this dish. With Moussaka, you want to highlight the vegetables, not cover them up! Tannin is also bitter, and Moussaka has enough bitterness as is with the eggplant flavours.
Best wine with Moussaka
Xinomavro and Moussaka Pairing
If you are feasting on Greek Moussaka, Xinomavro is a must, if you can find it. Xinomavro is a Greek red wine that is lighter-bodied when young. As it ages, you’ll find a fuller-bodied red that has a robust tomato flavour. With young Xinomavro, black cherry, raspberries, strawberries, prunes and roses dominate the rich flavours of this red wine. You’ll also get notes of black olives, black pepper, herbs, smoke and spices which make it exceptional with Moussaka.
Xinomavro can age for decades, but I would suggest a young and lighter-bodied Xinomavro to enjoy it with Moussaka. Older Xinomavro will be full-bodied with less fruit, more tomato-like notes, and stronger hints of earth and tobacco. Aged Xinomavro will still be delicious with Moussaka, but I feel you’ll be tasting more of the wine during dinner and not the actual dish.
A young Xinomavro pairs better as it walks the line of being fruity and refreshing against the baked but creamy texture of Moussaka. Meanwhile, the wine has enough complexity to inject a hint of pepper, herbs, and smoke into the mix.
Greek wine isn’t the easiest thing to find in North America, and quality may vary. Producers I am familiar with and enjoy include Boutari, Rapsani, Tsantalis and Vaeni.
Rioja Crianza & Moussaka Pairing
Rioja is a Spanish red wine made from the Tempranillo grape. Rioja Crianza is when the wine is released two years after its vintage, meaning you’ll find a fruity and fresh red wine that is incredibly refreshing. While Rioja Crianza has soft tannin, this wine is not excellent with Moussaka that has tomato sauce as the wine has a little too much tannin.
I prefer Rioja Crianza with Moussaka vs an aged Rioja as I feel the baked flavours of Moussaka don’t require the additional complexity of a Rioja Reserva or Gran Reserva. I would save these more expensive reds for rich and hearty stews or roasted meats. On the other hand, Rioja Crianza is an inexpensive and versatile red wine that keeps you refreshed in between bites with its fruity flavours of cassis, black cherries, plums, and strawberries. You’ll still get a hint of pepper, leather, earth and coffee that mesh well with the baked eggplant flavours of Moussaka.
As far as producers go, there are too many to mention. López de Heredia, Marqués de Cácerres, Bodegas Muga, Remirez de Ganuza and Sierra Cantabria are just a few of my favourites.
Barbera & Moussaka Pairing
Barbera grapes are grown across the globe but is perhaps best produced in Piedmont, Italy. With Barbera, expect an acidic and light red wine displaying wonderful notes of black and red cherries, plums, and raspberries. If you opt for an Italian Barbera, you’ll also get subtle notes of herbs, earth, mineral and spices. The herbal and earthy notes will complement the bitter flavours of the eggplant and the earthier potatoes. Meanwhile, Barbera has just the right amount of tannin to handle the meat sauce in your Moussaka, as well as plenty of acidity to cut through the rich carbohydrate content of this baked dish.
Sticking to Italian Barbera, if your Moussaka contains tomato sauce, look for a Barbera d’Asti which is lighter-bodied with higher acidity. Barbera d’Alba will be fuller-bodied and have lower acidity. Italian producers I enjoy include Aldo Conterno, Sandrone, Braida, Maria Borio and Vietti.
Zinfandel & Moussaka Pairing
Zinfandel, when not produced in a high-alcohol and bold style, has just the right amount of fruitiness and tangy acidity to pair up nicely with most variants of Moussaka. Zinfandel is known for being quite fruity. Refreshing flavours of blackberries, black cherry cassis and raspberries dominate this plush red wine. Zinfandel is dry, but due to the fruitiness, it has a hint of sweetness that will complement your Moussaka if it has a tomato sauce accompanying it.
Zinfandel also has a smoky quality that makes it lovely with the baked flavours of Moussaka. Plus, you’ll always find a hint of black pepper, which fits right in with the layers of meat, potatoes and eggplant used to create your Moussaka.
Shiraz & Moussaka Pairing
An inexpensive and medium-bodied Shiraz from Australia will taste quite elegant when accompanying a warm plate of baked Moussaka. Shiraz is known for refreshing notes of blackberry, plum, and raspberry. This refreshing quality is necessary as the layers of potato and eggplant can take their toll in dulling down your taste buds.
With Shiraz, you’ll also get lovely notes of smoke and black pepper that make it a joy to eat with Moussaka, as the smokiness of the wine complements the baked flavours of this dish. Meanwhile, the black pepper and spice notes of a medium-bodied Shiraz inject just enough complexity to fit right in with the layers of vegetables without overwhelming their unique flavours.
Expensive Shiraz will have more oak in it and be quite bold and powerful. You’ll probably still enjoy it with Moussaka, but it will be a case where you taste the wine and not so much of the food.