Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Salad Days - With Wine

Long gone are the days of a floppy lettuce and half a tomato – salads are now sumptuous affairs crammed with crisp green leaves and vibrant vegetables. Summer salads can be notoriously tricky to pair with wines – but not if you know what you are doing.

The main culprit is not the salad but the dressing due to the fact that it is acidic. Too much aggressive acid will make the wine taste flat and dull, even when the wine starts out bright and crisp. The best advice is to avoid starting a "war of acids" between the two partners. A little bit of acid can harmonize beautifully with wine; just keep acids in balance.

Vinegar is just plain unfriendly to almost any wine and should be used sparingly. Balsamic, Sherry or Rice Wine vinegars tend to be sweeter and less astringent. You could use an alternative to Vinegar and an old restaurant trick is to substitute the Vinegar for wine in the dressing.

You can replace acid ingredients with other liquids that are intense, but not sharp, such as rich chicken, veal, fish or vegetable stock, Worcester sauce, soy sauce, juices from roasted meats or vegetables or roasted garlic purée.

Using different oils can make an important link with the wine – there are plenty of fruit and nut oils available as an alternative to olive oil. Salads with nut oils bring out the nutty, toasty taste of Chardonnay - try the Montagnac Chardonnay (£4.75), as it's un-oaked, clean and has flavours of apple, citrus and pear with a nice little sherbet bite on the finish. Andrew over at Spittoon tried it with Fish Skewers with Thai Spices from Waitrose and rated it 90/100.

The other tip to is include lots of ingredients in your salad whose flavours and textures complement and contrast with (and in some cases mitigate) the wine. These can echo the flavours in the wine, such as fresh berries that pick up the ripe berry flavors of Rosé, for example, or a slice of sweet pear that's similar to the sweetness in a White Bordeaux. Another type of bridge ingredient might contrast with - not echo - the wine. The heat of a chilli laced dressing will play nicely off a sparkling wine.

Sometimes ingredients can play down troublesome characteristics of the wine. For example, the tannins in a robust red wine would be too much for a simple salad of greens and vegetables, but some slices of rare grilled beef or a round of smoked mozzarella will make the tannins much milder and more agreeable. If you love red wine then Château Au Berton (£6.75) is your perfect partner for salads. It is low in tannins and can even be served chilled. Château Au Berton is a 1998 Medoc and has a nicely balanced, clean fruity flavour with a silky finish.

Images Courtesy of www.flickr.com

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