Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Salads and Wine: A Dirty Rumor Exposed

Thank you for all of your posting advice! I will attend to all your wine and food pairing interests in the coming months. In the meantime, keep the topic recommendations coming. I want to write about the wine and food pairing in which you're all interested. Now....

Someone, lets say it was one of the Hilton sisters because sometimes their all-night parties lead to crazy things, once spread the word that salads do not pair well with wines. I know, horrible. But even worse was that some of us, not knowing that one of the Hiltons recently called West Africa a country or that the same one occasionally forgets to put on her underpants, believed that there was a holy truth to this statement.

The horror.

Please allow me the honor of defalsifying the former accusation; Salads can be wonderful with wine.

The statement that salads can be hard to pair with wines does have some foundation. Vinaigrettes, after all can be pains to match, as the acidity levels in the vinegar can just make a wine feel funny. With reds especially, they tend to remind them of their former salad days when they were this close to becoming vinegar if they made a wrong decision in their fermenting path. And this embarrasses them. In addition, the acids in salad dressings, mixed with the tannins in darker red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, can lay the grounds for a horrible, mouth-puckering situation. Take note, high acid foods + very tannic wines = often awkward.

However, with a little love, a salad can grow up to be a fine pairing for wine. Here are some hints:

1. Make a salad dressing with a light vinegar. Stay away from recipes insisting that you use all balsamic. Balsamic is generally too harsh for wines. If you need to use balsamic for some reason, mix it with a wine-themed vinegar, like mucat, or champagne to tame its bitter finish.

2. Use vinegars made from wine grapes or named after a wine growing regions or white grapes (a.k.a Champagne, cava, muscat). They are gentler on the palate, less acidic, and can easily snuggle up to their wine friends with a little olive-oil coaxing. Think match like with like.

3. Skip vinegar all together and use lemon juice or another citrus fruit for the acid. This creates a lighter, more subtle salad dressing. Plus, citrus fruit doesn’t feel like it’s in competition with wine, rather it aims at highlighting any citrus flavors found in the wine, or any other flavors that citrus can bring to the surface.

4. Drink Gruner Vetliner and other whites or rosés without oak with your salad. Wood and vinegar and letttuce, come on, does that even sound good?

5. If you are drinking reds with your salad, drink a higher acidity red with bright fruit, light tannins and very little oak (see # 4), like a Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley. Do not drink Cabernet Sauvignon with your salad. It will not taste good. It has too much oak and tannins to sweet talk a salad.

What do you drink with your salads?

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redman said...

I for one have always skipped right over that rule since two of my favorite things for a meal are wine and salad!

I agree with the point about light vinegars. Rice wine vinegar is wonderful in this regard.

Another thing I try to do when making a salad for a meal in which I plan to serve wine is to either dress the salad more lightly, which I think is good in general since most of us overdress our salads, or serve the salad with the main course so it gets blended in with other things like rich proteins, starches, etc.

Kirstin said...

Rice vinegar is a good point- it's lighter and less abrasive on the tongue when mixed with wine.

So true about salad overdressing, too. Not a huge matching issue if the dressing isn't in your face.

And good for you for ignoring the no salad dressing rule! I urge anyone to drink tannic wine with balsamic vinaigrette if it's your thing, too. Bring it out of the closet and be proud.

linnhe said...

Don't forget about using a wonderful verjus for the dressing--Fusion makes a good one, but shelf life is limited. I can't think of a lovelier salad than butter lettuce, pears, spiced walnuts, and a few berries topped with light "winegrette", twinned with a crisp Rhine wine. Follow with something spicy... Yummy.