Spring is upon us! The sun is shining, we are going outdoors after a long winter and the salad season has officially begun! The question is: which wines do we pair with salads?
Salads are delicious but due to the multitude of possible ingredients, they are quite difficult to pair with wines. The dressing is a big component and thus needs to be in balance with the wine.
The standard 1 part vinegar and 3 parts oil recipe creates dressings that are very acidic. The last thing we want is a war of acids between the wine and the dressing. Thus, in most cases we need to tone down the acid in the dressing to be in balance with the wine.
One way to tone down the acidic component in the dressing would be, obviously, to use less vinegar. You could also use rice wine, sherry or balsamic vinegar that is less sharp. Fruit juices offer a gentle acidity; use lemon, orange or apple juice.
Next, we need to look at the actual ingredients too. This is the really challenging part of pairing the appropriate wine. Ultimately, when designing a salad, include ingredients that have a natural affinity for the wine you had in mind. The link created will pull everything together. I’ve broken down the ingredients and their appropriate wine pairing below.
Peppery greens will want a wine with spiciness such as Zinfandel or Petite Syrah.
Roasted vegetables have a more concentrated or sweeter flavour, from the caramelisation during the roasting. Deeper and richer wines work better with them, so think of wooded Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay.
Grilled vegetables want wine with a touch of wood too.
Certain vegetables with dominate a salad such as earthy, flavoured mushrooms. Here a Pinot Noir would be your best bet.
The wine should be slightly oaked, to pick up the toastiness. A wooded Chardonnay would work well.
Dried or fresh, fruit offers many flavours found in wine. This relationship allows fruit to be a great bridging ingredient to link a wine to a salad. As an example, apple, pear, melon or even tropical fruit flavours may be found in a Riesling.
Ripe fresh berry flavours dominate many wines such as pinot noir while dried fruit such as cranberries, apricots and raisins will link to wines with brighter notes such as Grenache.
Dry aged cheeses such as Parmesan pair beautifully with barrel-fermented Chardonnays. A salty blue cheese goes well with a slightly sweet or off-dry wine such as a Riesling.
Meats, Seafood, and Poultry
These ingredients make a salad more substantial and will dominate the salad. With red meats choose wines with more body and tannin such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz. Match the body of the meat to the body of a wine. Grill or sear meats for a salad as a rule of thumb. The Maillard process or browning of the meat will add another dimension of flavour.
Pair a seared duck breast with Pinot Noir. Seafood, will call for wines with a touch of minerality, such as the Boucheron Chardonnay 2013.
Toasted nuts complement slightly oaky, toasty wines.
The best way to learn how to pair wines with salads is to choose a wine and then build the salad around it. Think about the elements you taste and then include ingredients that match the elements of the wine.