Randy Mayor

Salads are a natural for summertime meals, and so are these wine pairings.

By Karen MacNeil
August 14, 2008

In the midst of summer's heat, wine provides a refreshingaccompaniment to the crisp coolness of a salad. In honor of theseason, I decided to investigate salad and wine pairings. Duringthe course of a month, I prepared four basic salads and tasted eachwith more than 60 wines from around the world. Here's what Ifound.

With basic green salads, lettuce is not the issue-the dressing is.Vinaigrettes are often so vinegary that they make most wines tastebitter or flat. But if you make a vinaigrette with lemon juice or a"soft" vinegar-such as good quality balsamic vinegar-you'll getthat bright flavor you want and have a dressing that complementswines. White wines with a similarly bright, clean flavor are thebest matches for green salads. Among those to try: Californiasauvignon blanc, French Sancerre, Australian riesling, and one ofmy favorites with vinaigrette-laced green salads, Spanishalbariño.

Many diverse ingredients make chef's salads intriguing to eat, but they also make them achallenge to pair. Plus, compared to a basic green salad, theaddition of protein foods (chicken, ham, cheese) changes the wineequation completely and opens up the possibility that a redwine-rather than a white-will be the star. Ham is tricky when itcomes to wine, and its bold salty/cured flavor can make many winestaste washed out.

Here, the results really surprised me. While many well-balancedchardonnays would be a nice match, the two best partners were bothreds: a Spanish tempranillo (Marques de Arienzo) and a ChiantiClassico (Cecchi "Teuzzo" Chianti Classico Reserva). What madethese red wines work? Both are light to medium in body, have goodacidity, are low in tannin, and have red fruit flavors thatcontrast brilliantly with the proteins in the salad.

As I liberally laced the dressing for my classic Caesar salad with garlic and anchovies, I braced myself.Could any wine stand up to this? As it turns out, Caesar salad iswonderful with all sorts of wines. Light- to medium-bodied whiteswith good acidity work beautifully. But my favorite choices werejust the opposite: full-bodied whites with low acidity. Three typesof wine that fit this bill: chardonnay, gewürztraminer, andviognier.

I love mayonnaise-based salads like chicken salad and shrimp saladas main courses this time of year. But mayonnaise is usually deadlyas a wine partner. I tried every white wine I could think of-evenChampagne-but none worked. When two of my colleagues suggested Itry a dry rosé, I found the "wow" I'd been looking for.

Cooking Light wine expert Karen MacNeil was named Ecolab Outstanding Wine andSpirits Professional of 2004 by the James Beard Foundation. She ischair of the wine programs at the Culinary Institute of America inCalifornia's Napa Valley. Wine prices may vary.

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