Dressing down

saladMatching wine to a lettuce and herb salad, whose only coating is a grind of salt and pepper, is easy - almost any white or light red wine will go. Finding a wine for a salad dressed in oil or vinegar is a little more difficult.

Oily salad dressings coat the taste-buds making it difficult to work out whether you’re drinking wine or water while tartly flavoured vinegar and lemon dressings can fight with a wine’s fruity flavours making both the wine and salad taste metallic. There are wines that match dressed salads, but first you’ll need to change the dressing.

Malt vinegar mixed with oil produces tangy vinaigrette, but its high acidity can mask the delicate flavours of both salad and wine. Try reducing the amount of vinegar or replace the malt vinegar entirely. Red or white wine vinegars taste pleasantly fruity and match the earthy taste of red-leaved lettuce. A less acidic dressing can be made with lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil. Serve with light red wines, like Brown Brothers Tarrango (£5.99), or Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand or Sancerre in the Loire Valley.

Salads that contain ingredients other than leaves make matching wine more difficult. Hard cheese works well in salad because its salty nature enhances the flavour of blander lettuce leaves, but eating it coats the mouth in a sticky high-fat layer. All but the most acidic wines - like Italian Pinot Grigio, brut champagne or Portuguese vinho verde - can cut through this.

Adding blue-veined cheese, like Stilton or Gorganzola, to a salad can really test the food-wine union. Only fruity red wines can cope with these highly-flavoured cheeses. Australian or Italian Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot blends all have enough fruit flavours and tannins to match blue-cheese salads.

Trying to find the perfect match for your salad dressing can prove complicated, so an alterative strategy may be to match your salad’s native home with a wine from the same country. Salade Niçoise (French green beans, onions, tuna, hard-boiled eggs and herbs), which literally means ‘salad as prepared in Nice’, matches its regional Côtes de Provence rosé. Feta cheese in a Greek salad works with any white wine made using the Greek grape varieties of Asyrtiko, Malagousia and Vilana. Italian Insalata Tricolore (the three colours being green avocado, white buffalo mozzarella and red tomatoes) matches light red Italian wines like Valpolicella.

windowsill saladIf, like me, you like to pick your own English-grown salad from the back garden or allotment, why not pick a native English wine to match.

PG’s Tips

Here’s a selection of wines I’ve found particularly salad-friendly.

Most major supermarkets and off-licences

Villa Maria Private Bin Riesling 2006, Marlborough, New Zealand. £6.99

You’ll guaranteed not to find any musty ‘corked’ wine flavours in this screwcapped Riesling. Smells of apples and pineapple cubes, but tastes like rhubarb without the custard. Match with salads dressed in traditional vinaigrette.

Da Luca wineDa Luca Pinot Grigio 2005, Venezie, Italy. £4.99

This pale yellow wine smells and tastes of toffee and melon. Its initial smooth taste changes to a sharp finish as it moves across the tongue. A wine that would match many cheese salads.

Da Luca Primitivo Merlot 2004, Tarantino, Italy. £4.99

An extremely juicy and fruity wine that tastes of black cherries and black pepper. Match with a salty salad, or a tuna and anchovy topped pizza.

Brown Brothers Tarrango 2006, Victoria, Australia. £5.99

The Tarrango grape gives a light red coloured wine that tastes of cherries and strawberries. This is a red wine for rosé lovers. Best served slightly chilled and matched with anything other than the heartiest meat-topped salads.

Co-op

Duo Mythique Syrah Grenache rosé 2006, Vins de Pays D’Oc, France. £4.99

This 50-50 blend of the traditional French grape varieties Syrah and Grenache tastes lightly of cherry-flavoured throat pastilles. Not as sweet as many rosé wines, so it would go well with lighter salads.

Three Choirs Vineyard, Gloucestershire (www.three-choirs-shop.co.uk)

Premium Selection 2005, Three Choirs Vineyard, England. £4.89 bought at the vineyard, or £57.48 for a case of 12 bottles bought online (equivalent to £3.83 per bottle)

At 10.5% alcohol by volume, this blend of English grape varieties is a quaffable match to lunch-time salads. Rather than drinking this apple tasting wine, you could just sniff and enjoy the huge array of peach, elderflower, melon and cooked apple aromas coming out of the glass.

Tanners Wine Merchants (branches at Shrewsbury, Hereford, Bridgnorth and Welshpool or online www.tanners-wines.co.uk)

L’Opéra de Villerambert Julien 2004, Minervois, France. £6.70

A red wine that will match with both light side-salads and main-course salads. The wine smells of fresh green leaves, cherries and blackberries but tastes of chocolate and smoke. A tasty wine but maybe slightly pricey.

This first appeared on Drink Up... With Paula Goddard on livingit.com