What to Drink With: Summer Salads

Abandon the myth about pairing greens with whites and reds.

Green salads have long suffered the rap as “bad for wine.” Most people justified this early dismissal in the belief that vinegar-based dressings turn the taste of wine sour in the mouth, making wine pairing inadvisable. “Drink water,” a self-described expert on wine once told me.

But tossed salads appear more often on American tables now, either as an appetizer or entrée, and it’s time we laid to rest the myth about wine and salads. In fact, vinegar dressings work well with acidic, angular, sometimes citrusy wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Pinot Grigio. When the dressing is creamy–think Russian, Thousand Island, Ranch, or Creamy Parmesan– Chardonnay, Semillon, and Marsanne stand up well.

But today’s salads are about more than greens, and when salads turn wild, the wines should follow suit. Pairing wine with any dish is more about the accent flavors than the base ingredient, and the same applies here. Instead of focusing on the green leaves on the plate, consider the nuts, fruit slices, or cheeses added to the dish.

When a salad is dressed with apples or nuts, a zesty Pinot Grigio or more seductive Jurancon would be best, but an off-dry Albariño also works quite well. If strawberries or orange flavors accent the dish, Beaumes-de-Venise or Moscato d’Asti is perfect.

Dry, crumbly cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano typically call for red wines, but shavings of P-R on salads won’t lead you to a bruising Cabernet. Insert a sparkling Prosecco instead, to match the mere accent of the sometimes salty flavors of the cheese. When the featured cheese is soft yet pungent, like gorgonzola or Danish blue, a Rosé from Provence or Côtes du Rhône would be right. When these pungent cheeses dominate the dish, red wine might be the only foil, but in a salad setting, they’re taken only as accents on the total dish and softer wines merit attention.

The important thing is not to get fixated on the pile of greens in the bowl but the flavor spikes that are present in the mix. After all, there’s no green wine, but loads of whites and reds that can make your salad sing.

 For more information on pairing wine with salads as well as some salad recipes, see Wine and Salad and Pairings: Salad Days.

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