One of the main ingredients in salad is wine's nemesis: vinegar.
One of the main ingredients in salad is wine's nemesis: vinegar.
Photo by Jeremy Parzen.

Odd Pair: What Wine Do You Pair With Salad?

Anyone who's ever traveled to Italy or France knows that the romance Europeans eat their salad after the main course.

In the French and Italian view, fresh lettuces, bitter chicory (like radicchio veronese), delicate white endive, and vinegar-based dressings are intended to cleanse the palate after the main course.

But the fact that the salad is served at the end of the savory course sequence also solves a fundamental problem: Vinegar, by its very nature, is wine that has gone bad and its intense acidity and bitterness can often overwhelm the wine.

As the great northern Rhône winemaker Michel Chapoutier recently explained in a blog post (composed in response to the recent uproar over Natural wine), vinegar is created when wine is exposed to bacteria that transform the alcohol into acid. In other words, vinegar is a wine where the balance of acidity, residual sugar, and alcohol has been dominated by the tartness of the acid.

The name itself -- vinegar -- comes from the French vinaigre, literally, sour wine (from the Latin vinum or wine and acer meaning sharp, piercing, penetrating, cutting, irritating, pungent).

Odd Pair: What Wine Do You Pair With Salad?

So what wine can be paired with sour wine?

Even though we tend to eat like Italians at our house, we generally eat our salad before the meal. And, for the most part, we avoid pairing red wines -- especially fine wines -- with our salad.

Although I find that high-acid, dry Riesling (in particular Austrian) can work well with salad and salad dressing, my number-one wine is nearly always a Sauvignon Blanc, thanks to its often intensely aromatic character. Traditional expressions of Sauvignon Blanc -- high acidity, low alcohol, and classic cat piss aromas -- are my favorites. But I've also found that the New Zealand style, with its signature jalapeño note, also works well.

But ultimately, it comes down the "acid test": If the wine doesn't have enough acidity to stand up to the vinegar, it will be overwhelmed by the dressing.

What wines do you like to pair with your favorite salad?

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