Wines to Match your Salad
Matching wine to salad can be tough, but a necessary skill to grasp. Adam Lechmere decodes how to pair wine to the most versatile of dishes
The Oxford English Dictionary defines salad as ‘a cold dish of various mixtures of raw and cooked vegetables usually seasoned with oil, vinegar or other dressing and sometimes accompanied by meat, fish or other ingredients’. You’ll agree that covers almost everything. There is no dish so varied or adaptable as the salad.
Flavours and textures run the full gamut, from the pungent acidity of a tabouleh to a hearty chicken Caesar or a salty seafood mèlange.
When you’re thinking of pairing a wine with a salad, there’s one useful rule: look to the dressing. If the dominant note is vinegar, remember the fail-safe truth that acidity goes with acidity. A vinaigrette dressing, whether it’s on lettuce and rocket or mandolined raw courgette, will overwhelm anything but an acidic white wine. A creamy or yoghurty dressing can be paired with a decently fresh chardonnay or a lighter, aromatic white such as albariño.
Another salad rule: as with every wine match, if in doubt, go local. There’s nothing better for Niçoise than a Provençal rosè.
Of course, the salad is more often than not an accompaniment to the main event. Chicken Caesar is a case in point. Forget the leaves and concentrate on the meat. If the chicken is lightly grilled, go for a crisp white (the Taste the Difference Macon-Villages, below, for example). Or a potato salad shot through with crisp curls of bacon would take a lightish, fruity red such as a Beaujolais.
The most challenging thing about salads is the wealth of flavour and texture you often get on the same plate. The likes of seared oily fish demands a red with a bit of weight (say a Loire cabernet franc), though in any dressing that uses honey, I’d want something with a bit of sweetness to go with it. The Chêne Bleu rosé below is full-bodied enough for sh but there’s peach and passion fruit too that matches a sweet dressing superbly.
Thai salads play with all the avours, from sweet and sour to salt and spice. Look at the wealth of avours in a green papaya and mango salad with shrimp and a sh sauce dressing. I’d go for a gewürztraminer such as the Cave de Turckheim 2011 Brand (£17.99, Virgin Wines). It starts off honey-sweet then goes on to develop a sharp edge of salinity and bright acidity, making it perfect for the spectrum of tastes on the plate.
From the Far East to the Middle East and the ubiquitous tabouleh (which actually means ‘mixed salad’). Here the dominant avours are green and tart: parsley, mint, cucumber, spring onion, tomato, lemon juice and vinegar; the texture firm and chewy. A New Zealand sauvignon blanc is a popular choice for obvious reasons. You need acidity, certainly, but I’d argue for more aromatic fruit to go with the slightly sweet nuttiness of the bulgur wheat – try the lovely Niño de las Uvas macabeo below.
Lastly, with leaves, match the avours where you can. The tart, almost metallic flavours of young spinach and Swiss chard need light and fruity reds (Beaujolais again). However, for the mustardy, nutty intensity of wild rocket and watercress, go for a dry sherry or a bone-dry white from northern Italy such as a Gavi di Gavi.
Niño de las Uvas 2014, Bullas, Spain, £10.99
Rich and fresh mineral palate with fine dry austere acidity wrapped in ripe tropical fruit. It’s Intriguing, seductive and perfect for tabouleh.
Taste The Difference Macon-Villages 2015, £8
Lovely sweet nose of sugared pear, invigorating acidic palate with bright citrus flavours, peach and apricot and a mineral finish.
Halfpenny Green Vineyards Mercia 2014, £11
Demi-sec nose, sweet hints of apple crumble, fresh as newly washed linen with an acidic finish. Enjoy with Serrano ham and sliced cox with honey vinaigrette.
Bouchard Père et Fils Fleurie 2015, Beaujolais, France, £11.99
Lovely sweet cassis nose, bright expressive strawberry and blackcurrant with a little bit of earth and suave tannins. Juicy and summery.
Chene Bleu rosé 2014, £18.99
Rosé for grown-ups. Strawberry and redcurrant then a satisfyingly dry mid-palate with tangy notes of Seville orange. Very fine texture. Try with salmon or tuna salad with sweet/acidic fruit dressing.