How to Pair Wine with Salad
Have you seen the Seinfeld episode with Elaine’s big salad? When George doesn’t get credit for buying her this dish of enviable culinary goodness, he manages to make a scene that gets him dumped by his girlfriend.
There’s something about a salad, which is why Seinfeld fans totally get it. They're packed with fresh, crunchy, creamy, crisp ingredients and land in the perfect place where healthy meets indulgent. That is, if they're made properly with quality greens, proteins, dressings, and toppers. And bonus points if the salad comes with a glass of wine. Here are our suggestions for the perfect pairings to go with your big salad.
Beet Salad + Light Reds
The beet salad, with its plate-staining goodness, is one of the best things on the menu as far as we’re concerned. It always comes with crumbly soft cheese and some kind of tangy dressing. We love when there’s a nut accoutrement, such as (forgive us the temptation) candied almonds. A chilled, juicy, light-bodied red rounds out the texture and flavors of this treat.
Our suggestion: Cru Beaujolais gives off the same charming, satisfying vibe as a gorgeous, glistening beet.
Bracing Greens + High-Acid Whites
A salad made with an assortment of super fresh greens can include anything else you like to round it out: peppery herbs, sliced veggies, hard boiled egg, croutons, shaved cheese…you get the drift. Dressing will determine the overall vibe, but our favorite for spring and summer is vinaigrette made with high quality olive oil.
Our suggestion: Gruner Veltliner has white peppery, nutty, spicy, acid-rich profile that really pops when paired with something green and crispy.
Ranch Salads + Rich Whites
Did you know that Hidden Valley Ranch is based on a real place? For many salad lovers, that place is heavenly. Ranch dressing has earned its spot as a staple condiment for both salads and dipping sauces, and we think it deserves a white wine that has a bit of body and generous aromatics.
Our suggestion: A Pinot Blanc from a cool climate such as Alsace, Germany, or Austria has the body and balance for a ranch-drizzled salad.
Citrus Salads + Bubbly
A true treat comes wrapped in pith and rind: citrus. From grapefruit to blood oranges, there’s nothing like the burst of aromatics and juice delivered by a wedge of slightly chilled citrus fruit. What a mood booster when popped into a salad with bitter radicchio or peppery arugula then drizzled with homemade vinaigrette. A delight with the elegance and vibrancy of anything sparkling.
Our suggestion: The texture of Champagne plus the through-line of citrus acidity is all about vibrancy. Plus, it’s wonderfully indulgent.
Seafood Salad + Mineral-Driven Whites
Cold seafood salads can feature grilled or tinned ingredients such as squid or octopus swimming in olive oil or with a dusting of sea salt. Served with a bed of super fresh greens, this meal reminds us of coastal lunches with views of the clear blue sea. Bring on the saline-tinged, slightly savory, wet-stone evocative varieties from places such as Greece, the Loire Valley, Chablis, Spain, and Sicily.
Our suggestion: A crisp and pure Chablis 1er Cru never lets down a plate of super-fresh seafood or shellfish.
A pro tip is to pay attention to the dressing as much as the ingredients—the structure and profile of the wine should harmonize and stand up to dressing. For example, we look for wines with generous acid comparable to the acid in vinaigrettes, or wines with enough body to partner with thick and creamy dressings.
Here’s the thing: salad pairings are so playful, so varied, so abundant that there really aren’t any rules. Generally speaking, we look for bright, vibrant wines to pair with the liveliness of salad. And keep in mind the exception to the rule is often the brightest star. For this we leave you with exhibit A: the regal black and blue salad, which may very well call for that big-bodied red that didn’t make the list. Because what is the definition of a big salad, anyway? As Elaine says: “It's a salad, only bigger, with lots of stuff in it.” Only you get to decide what that stuff is.