Saturday, 12 January 2013

What wine with salad?

It is summer time here in Sydney and that requires cooler food.  We have been making a lot of salads recently to address that.  We have also been watching our weight and trying to eat better, so a good salad helps with that also.

But what type of wine to match with salads?  I have books and experience matching wines with different types of meats, cheeses, and chocolates, but not with salads.  With the number of salads we have had over the last few weeks, I have been considering this more and wanted to share some initial thoughts with you.  My single most important rule is that any good wine and any good salad will do!  Matching salads and vegetables with other foods is pretty easy and it is not often that you have a major conflict.  I think the same can be said for wine and salads.

However, to improve on the "any good salad, any good wine will do" approach, I would try to determine if there is a main or over-riding ingredient or dominant taste in the salad.  If a particular taste or flavor is going to be dominant in the food, that would be a good starting point for selecting the wine.

Another concept I go for is that salads are most often made with fresh produce and therefore I go for a wine with some freshness and crispness to it.  A wine that works well with meaty / gamey foods would not - as a general rule - be good with a salad unless the salad had large slices of grilled lamb or something similar meat.  In general and if you have no other guidance, then go with a white wine, preferably a crisp one.

For example, tonight we are are having a bean and feta salad.  The beans are slightly cooked, but still quite crisp.  The feta has a touch of sharpness to it.  It also contained tomatoes, Spanish onion, and some spices.  Therefore, I have pulled out a medium aged Riesling (a 2007 Annies Lane from Clare Valley) to go with it as I expect a bit of the remaining acid in the wine to stand up well with the crispness of many of the ingredients in the salad.  In general, I would consider three types of white wines which should go well with salads:
  • Riesling:  for a salad with crisp ingredients, sharper cheeses, apple chunks, spices
  • Pinot Gris: with walnuts or figs as part of the salad, or more citrus fruit bits
  • Semillon or Sauvignon Blanc (or blend): should work well with almost any salad, especially if it has chunks of smoked salmon, seared tuna, scallops, lobster, or other fish or crustaceans
Chardonnay: will not work as well as the other three whites mentioned above unless the salad contains large chunks of chicken and is fairly bland overall.  And if salad is the only thing I am going to eat as a meal, then I usually am going to have one with some stronger flavors and spices.

If you plan on putting some grilled or stir-fried red meat into the salad, you can start to think about a red wine.  In general, salads should be 'light,' so something like a Pinot Noir or a Zinfandel could work.  If the meat is heavier and spicier, then a Shiraz should work also.

If you plan on making the salad the main or only course like we have been doing this summer, then it is also a cause for more celebration and a Sparkling Shiraz or a Frizante could work well also.  Both the salad and the wine are full of crispness and freshness then!

This is still an area I am finding out more about and hope to have a more complete and rigorous set of salad / wine matchings in the future.  We just got a couple of great salad cookbooks and will be trying a number of new salads over the coming weeks, experimenting with different wines, and coming back with more suggestions for you in the near future!  And if you have any good ideas or experiences where you have had a good pairing of a wine with a salad, please let me know.

BTW, my friend Blake Stevens posted an article today on home-made fresh summer foods and the concept of a 'fridge' salad.  Read the post and let me know what wine, if any, you would consider matching with the 'fridge' salad!

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