As soon as summer rolls around and the weather gets warmer, one of the key changes that affects every one of us involves the way we eat and drink. Throughout the colder months, we reach for hearty, filling, deeply savory dishes, and pair them with complex and earthy red wines. Once the sun starts shining, however, our plates become filled with lighter, crisper, fresher flavors, and our wine drinking leans more on the brighter, zestier, and whiter side of the spectrum.
In short, we start eating a lot more salads in the summertime and drinking a lot more white wine and lighter-bodied reds. Not that one can’t eat and drink like this all year round, of course, but there’s something special about this kind of pairing during the summertime.
Wine and food pairing can be a tricky process sometimes, and it’s something many of us need help with. Salads, despite seeming simple, are notoriously difficult to pair properly with wines. Why? Simply because it’s often difficult to decide what the principle flavors of a salad are. Think about it for a moment: are the leaves the main ingredient that lingers on the palate? The tomatoes, olives, cheese, or dressing? The meat? The fish? Because most salads are a combination of harmonious and contrasting flavors, it can be hard to decide exactly what it is you’re pairing your wine with.
We thought we’d take a look at a handful of truly classic salads, consider what the principle flavors are, and explore which wines work wonders as pairing partners for them.
The Classic Caesar Salad
Who doesn’t love a great Caesar salad? Invented in Mexico and embraced as a timeless classic all over the world, this beautiful dish brings together crisp lettuce leaves, sharp cheese, croutons, and a beautiful anchovy dressing. Whether you like to add some grilled chicken breast to this salad or not is up to you. Either way, it’s a beautiful dish that calls for a cool, crisp, and elegant glass of wine to drink alongside it.
The fact of the matter is, Caesar salad actually pairs very nicely with a wide array of wines. We like to drink a Spanish Albarino with a simple Caesar salad - there’s something about the slight salinity of the wine and that salty anchovy dressing and cheese that works really well.
A chicken Caesar salad, however, calls for something a little more rounded. A contemporary-style Chardonnay, which combines full-bodied softness with a streak of acidity, usually does the trick. The same goes for a Provencal Rose, which is a classic salad-pairing wine everybody enjoys on a sunny day!
A good Greek salad is a thing of beauty, especially on a hot and sunny day when you fancy something light, flavourful, and truly satisfying. Few other dishes feel quite as nourishing or quite as much like a vacation on a plate than this one. It’s a dish which, when made with quality ingredients, really hits the spot.
Greek salads were traditionally served with (surprise, surprise) Greek wines. However, we’re not going to start recommending those dodgy Retsina wines we all remember from Greek tavernas in the 1980s. The wine industry of Greece is currently producing some remarkable traditional wines that would work brilliantly with the salty, creamy, crumbly feta cheese and juicy olives. Assyrtiko has taken the wine world by storm in recent years - it’s fresh, crisp, and beautifully minerally. But if you can’t find one at your local bottle shop, go for a Vermentino, Gruner Veltliner, or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (which always works well with fresh produce).
Seafood Salad and Antipasti
Fresh, exciting, and more than a little luxurious, seafood salads really offer the taste of a summer vacation. Naturally, there are a thousand different ways a seafood salad can be made - ranging from spicy Thai salads of ginger-spiked prawns to buttery scallops, pickled octopus, and much more. No matter what combo of seafood and salad ingredients you go for, there’s no getting away from the fact that this kind of dish deserves a special kind of wine.
If the seafood itself is the dominant flavor in your salad, we’d recommend opting for a Vinho Verde, a Gavi, or a Viognier - our go-to wine when it comes to scallops, lobster, and crabmeat. However, if your salad features a shrimp cocktail or seafood sauce, you might be better off with something with a sweet-and-dry balance, like a classic German Riesling or Gewurztraminer.
Whoever invented the salade Nicoise was, without a doubt, something of a culinary genius. Who’d have thought that the combination of green beans, boiled egg, leaves, and tuna would end up being one of the world’s most iconic salads?
If you head to the south of France - the home of this particular salad - you’ll find the locals on the Cote d'Azur eating salade Nicoise almost invariably with a chilled Provencal rose wine. The blast of freshness and delicate acidity of these wines are ideal for cleansing the palate and balancing out those disparate flavors, and the subtle fruitiness works wonders with difficult-to-pair ingredients like boiled egg and green beans.
However, for salade Nicoise made with good quality tuna (and not the supermarket-standard flakes from a tin), we think a lightly chilled Pinot Noir would be the one to go for, instead. Yes, we know: red wine with a salad, or with fish, is usually a non-starter. However, this pairing really is good!
Via Katrin Gilger on Flickr
Meat makes for delicious salads, as it tends to allow the richness of the flavors to really shine and take center stage. They might not always be the most summer-y of options, but there’s no escaping the fact that they’re tempting no matter what the weather is doing.
The trick to pairing such meats with wine is to aim for balance and harmony; you don’t want the flavor of the food to overwhelm the wine on the palate, and vice-versa. Pinot Noir, once again, tends to be a sensible option here, or a red blend like Cotes du Rhone or GSM, which aim for juiciness and balance over astringency and complexity. The Italians would, of course, insist on a bright, sunny Sangiovese for such dishes, and they know a thing or two about al fresco dining in the sunshine!
What are You Pairing with Your Next Salad?
There you go - five beautiful summer salads, and the wine styles which pair beautifully with each and every one! We love eating and drinking in the garden or on a picnic, and we think our BruMate wine glasses and bottles are the perfect accessories for those sunny days when you want your chilled wine to stay fresh, delicious, and at the perfect temperature. Check them out today!