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The Right Wines to Serve With Salad

The best options for pairing red, white and greens

By Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl | October 22, 2012
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Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl is a five-time James Beard Award-winning food and wine writer whose latest book is Drink This: Wine Made Simple.

We hear it all the time: Eat more salad. Eat more leaves. Eat mostly plants. But no one ever says how to eat more plants without feeling like you’re a penitent hippie. A cubic yard of kale in a nice vinaigrette is a great option for cardiac and intestinal health, but decidedly lacking as the centerpiece of a dinner party.

For one thing, it’s missing the celebratory note: wine.

This is partly because French wines, which dominate the whole wide world, are typically considered flawed when they assume green notes. Only a very, very bad cabernet sauvignon leads with a taste of green pepper. If a chardonnay is grassy, it will find no fans.

So if you follow the wine-pairing rule of “like-with-like” when it comes to salad, you’ll be in a place that leads to truly demented dinner parties. We drink meaty red wines with meaty red meats and creamy white wines with creamy poultry or shellfish. But what exactly do you drink with a nice salad — a shot of gin in a tumbler of wheatgrass juice?

Before the big French wine grape varietals like syrah, pinot noir, merlot, chardonnay, and cabernet sauvignon came to dominate the world, there were some very salad-friendly, excellent wines from other countries. They're worth rediscovering now so you can eat your salad. And love your life. 
 
Gruner Veltliner

Austrian gruner veltliner (pronounced grooner felt-LEEN-er) is a bright, clean, energetic, mineral wine that can have notes of apricot and fresh cream. Paired with a salad it has the same effect of a light vinaigrette — it makes the greens taste better. Look for such producers as Huber, Brundlmayer and Hirsch, which has a memorable label that changes yearly, but always features a cartoon reindeer.

Goes great with: Green goddesss salad, salade Nicoise, any salads that are primarily green tasting.

Torrontes

Budget wine hunters are familiar with the malbec phenomena, those earthy, good red wines from Argentina that were rare a decade ago, but fill whole wine-shop sections today. Will torrontés, the Argentinean white, be the next breakout star? It deserves to be. The wine, pronounced tor-RON-tays, is lemony and tart in the best way: zippy, a little creamy and refreshing. It complements vegetables and salads the exact same way a squeeze of lemon juice does: It wakes them up and makes them sing. Some good producers: Colomé, Crios, Tilia and Alta Vista.

Goes great with: Greek salad, Caesar salad, roast vegetable and antipasto salads and any salads that have a strong tanginess.

Soave

The traditional still white wine from Italy’s Veneto region is Soave, which most Americans unfondly remember as the premiere white jug-wine of the 1960s and 1970s. Italian producers have, however, rescued the wine from the dustbin of history with more stringent production regulations. Today, the wine is often a revelation; its unique blend of the garganega grape and trebbiano di Soave offers a compelling combination of zip and cream, as well as green pear, bitter almond, a bit of orange flower and a citrus-clean finish that goes well with salads. Good labels: Inama, Pieropan, Suavia, Rocco Sveva and even that old warhorse Bolla, which has entered the 21st century by stressing quality instead of quantity.

Goes great with: Creamy shrimp or lobster-topped salad, salad with avocado, salad topped with grilled salmon and any salad with a creamy richness.