Image: Getty Images/Annabelle Breakey
Salads can be confusing when it comes to deciding which wines goes best with them. Most salads have some sort of dressing – usually vinegar-based – and it is the dressing that causes the difficulty in finding a good match. Traditionally, vinegar has not been a good partner for wine as it can completely obliterate the wine’s flavors, making the wine taste simply sour. But there have been more efforts to prove that acidic food may actually decrease the taste of acidity in wine IF it is paired well.
Quick rules of thumb
As we are all eating more salad these days; sometimes as a complete meal-in-itself, there are ways to make wine and salad work together. A few rules of thumb you can follow are: 1) make your salad with fewer acidic ingredients. If you leave most of the acidity in your dressing rather than the ingredients you put in the salad, this will help balance the flavors, making it much easier to match a complementary wine. 2) Add fruit to the salad to bring out fruity notes in the wine. 3) Consider other ingredients that are in your salad that could work well with wines such as meats, beans, legumes, nuts, cheese or tofu.
Adding the right kind of acidity
Traditional salad dressings usually require vinegar. Plain white vinegar has very high acidity. That’s why many wine enthusiasts have moved to making salad dressing with other ingredients. Fruit vinegars are often more mild than white vinegar. Adding sweeter citrus juices such as a Meyer lemon or even a bit of citrus-based liqueur may be substituted for vinegar to add some acidity that doesn’t overpower other flavors and adds a fruity sweetness to the dressing that goes well with wine.
Wine and balsamic vinegars are also nice milder alternatives to regular vinegar. Dark balsamic vinegar is fairly mild and golden balsamic is even milder. With either of these you can make a more mild vinaigrette. It is best to do some taste tests to find the type that you prefer.
Fruit is often used to describe the characteristics of wine so it’s not a stretch to see why adding fruit to your salad can help meld together flavors and even complement the wine. As more chefs are featuring alternatives to the old ice burg lettuce and tomato of yesterday, we are now seeing a wide variety of fruits added to salads including apples, pears, berries, figs, currants, apricots, pomegranate, peaches, melon and persimmon. More common to restaurant menus today may be Asian-influenced salads with mandarin oranges or salads that pair dried fruits such as cranberries or cherries with robust cheeses like gorgonzola. Progressive salads with delightful combinations of fruit and other ingredients offer more depth and flavor which means opening up more options in wine choices to go along with your salad course.
Choosing the wine
While most will say that the default wine for a salad is typically a white wine, it really has to do with what’s going on in the salad. If you’re having a nice light crisp salad with some fruit and maybe some cheese or nuts added, then your wine should also be light and crisp like maybe a Gewürztraminer, Riesling or Viognier and even a nice Rosé.
There may still be some surprise or uncertainty about the idea of having wine with salad, but it is becoming more accepted. And there are others like me who can’t even imagine having salad without wine anymore.
One of my favorites – that I make all the time – is a mix of butter lettuce, candied or plain pecans or walnuts, green apple and raisins with a homemade dressing of red wine vinegar a splash of dark balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, shallots and salt and pepper emulsified with equal parts of walnut oil and extra virgin olive oil. I serve this with a fantastic viognier chenin-blanc blend that features well with the tartness of the apple, vinegar and mustard actually making the wine taste much sweeter.
Now I can certainly appreciate this salad by itself and the wine on its own BUT there is absolute harmony and the tastes are simply amazing when the salad and wine are enjoyed together!