As a wine lover you may not be overly keen on a summer diet of salads for the simple reason that many a bowl of greens is often pretty unfriendly to your favourite drink. Luckily there are some hacks to appease the confrontation between tossed vegetables and the divine nectar.
Firstly, be aware that it’s the vinaigrette (oil mixed with something sour such as vinegar) that’s the biggest adversary of wine because of its very acidic nature. Too much aggressive acid will make many wines taste flat and dull, accentuate the tannins in serious reds and make whites seem excessively sweet.
The easiest fix is to reduce the amount of vinegar in the vinaigrette’s recipe. Better still, try using a softer vinegar such as balsamic or rice wine, or substitute it completely with other less sharp ingredients such as lemon or lime juice or a dash of dry wine.
Choose your wine accordingly. Opt for a crisp white wine such as a bracing Sauvignon Blanc with plenty of zest and zippy citrus flavours to deal with the dressing. Delicata’s Medina works well: its pleasant stone fruit laced with whiffs of freshly cut grass and nettle will also nicely harmonise any salmagundi of veggie flavours. The wine and salad mirror each other in their sappiness. Often opposites attract, but in this case like likes like.
Secondly, some vegetables are more hostile to wine than others. So keep the particular nature and flavour of the produce in mind when choosing a wine, or vice versa. Handpick specific legumes or oppositely steer clear from them to help the bottle show off well.
Remember that artichokes make wine taste unpleasantly sweet, asparagus together with wine tastes metallic and beets are particularly contentious because of their tanginess. My riposte is to increase the saltiness of the artichoke by adding some bacon or black olives, chargrill the asparagus first, or mask the twang with some coconut milk, and serve the dish with a wine like Medina Ġellewża, Malta’s old-bush vine red, which I have found to be a very faithful reserve.
This garnet-coloured, soft and fruity, feather-weight dry red wine made from Malta’s own red-skinned grape won’t flub. It’s light and tangy enough to stand up to the unkind greens, yet not too tannic to add to the bitterness, slightly earthy like beetroot and can be enjoyed slightly chilled which is an added bonus in summer.
This type of wine, which has just a little more texture and structure than most whites, is also a favourite to drink with bountiful scoops of salads made with either chicken or any other type of meat, tuna, pasta or potato but only as long as the ingredients are combined with a nutty oily dressing instead of mayonnaise or eggs.
In this case, a buttery yet unoaked Chardonnay or viscous Viognier is a better choice. Sparkling wines work especially well since their spritz will act as a foil to the problematic hard-boiled yolks.
They don’t need to cost a fortune either. Hurrah for Delicata’s slightly bubbly Girgentina Frizzante, a dry semi-sparkling white wine, made from Malta’s native green-skinned grape, with bright Granny Smith appley flavours and a tad of extra heft. The delicate froth of this Brut will cut perfectly through any awkward-to-match eggy texture, while the wine’s slightly creamy finish knocks out the tricky mayo.
Certain salad pieces seem to be perpetually at war with wine whereas other bits work as a helpful bridge between the different fronts contrasting or echoing the flavours of the wine.
For instance, adding some heat of a serrano chili pepper will help harmonise a Romaine lettuce salad with an off-dry or slightly sweet but spicy pink wine provided it isn’t very alcoholic. On the other hand, pitching in bits of sweet pear or tangerine might work just as well by mirroring the similar fruitiness of the rosé.
Most tricks aim to manage the interplay between the type of the dressing and the acidity of the wine, to balance the weights and flavours of the vegetables and other ingredients.
With some imagination it’s not only possible, salad and wine can actually be a heavenly match.
This article first appeared in The Times of Malta, Friday 17 June 2016