Among the ingredients generally held to create problems for wine, salads – or, more particularly, salad dressings – rank high on the list. However, that prejudice stems from a time when “salad” was a green one with a sharp, French vinaigrette, and the wine more often than not an oak-aged bordeaux.
These days, though, salads come in all shapes and sizes, and are often the main point of a meal. There may also be more than one on the table, so there’s no point in being too precious about what you serve with them. It’s more useful, perhaps, to think mainly in terms of wines that won’t work so well with them, among which I’d probably put full-bodied reds such as cabernet sauvignon or shiraz, though even those work just fine in the context of salads that include lentils or other pulses. Charred vegetable salads are also game-changers. For instance, you might not usually think of drinking an oaky chardonnay with a salad, but if it includes grilled or roast corn or butternut squash, it’s going to be a winner.
That said, the wines I generally turn to are fresh crisp whites and rosés (think of, say, the classic pairing of Provençal rosé and salade niçoise). Sauvignon blanc, with its marked, citrus character, is an obvious choice at this time of year, especially with salads that include asparagus and goat’s cheese; it’s good with tomato salads, too (there’s often a tomato stalk aroma in sauvignon). Smooth, creamy whites such as soave and chenin blanc go with creamy dressings such as for caesar salad; revisit the unfairly out-of-favour vouvray (see today’s pick), too. And aromatic whites such as pinot gris and riesling (Australian ones in particular) work well with south-east Asian-influenced salads that include the likes of lime, coriander and fish sauce – the Tesco wine below in my pick is a longstanding favourite.
As for reds, keep them fruity and not too long in the tooth. Fresh, young reds will echo any red fruits in a salad, including dried berries such as barberries or cherries, and will pick up on any meaty element in the form of crisp streaky bacon or air-dried ham.
If you are drinking a serious wine and want to make your salad more wine-friendly, it’s obviously best to avoid very hot or spicy dressings. Even with a vinaigrette, a touch of cream or chicken stock will offset the sharpness of the vinegar; herbs such as chervil and especially tarragon can also be a help. Honestly, the wine and salad problem is hugely overstated.
Five wines to go with salads
Extra Special Vouvray Chenin Blanc 2020 £7.25 Asda, 13%. Vouvray’s out of fashion, but this off-dry chenin with a hint of honey. Would be great with a creamy chicken salad. Good price, too.
The Pebble Sauvignon Blanc Val de Loire 2021 £9 Tesco (£8 for Clubcard members), 12%. Classic Loire sauvignon blanc, and way cheaper than sancerre. Try with a goat’s cheese salad.
Finest Tingleup Riesling 2021 £9, Tesco, 12.5%. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve recommended this wine, but the 2021 vintage is as good as ever. Perfect for a Thai or Burmese-style salad.
Domaine Girard ‘Garriguette’ Rosé 2020 £12.75 Yapp Brothers, 13.5%. Gorgeous, fruity Languedoc rosé made, unusually for the area, from cabernet franc. Could take several different salads in its stride.
Laurent Martray Brouilly La Folie 2018 £206.40 a case (£17.17 a bottle) plus delivery Justerini & Brooks, 13%. Not the cheapest beaujolais out there, but utterly delicious. Would be great with a rare roast beef or lamb salad.
For more by Fiona Beckett, go to matchingfoodandwine.com