Wine Pairing 101: Salads + My Favorite Dressing

Posted 7 months ago by E O

I’m frequently commissioned to craft multi-course food and wine pairing menus for our VIP wine collector clients’ celebration dinners. I relish this opportunity because I firmly believe the “perfect” pairing is one of the most dazzling culinary pleasures in life. Favorites such as seafood (Dungeness crab or lobster) with white Burgundy or filet mignon with Napa Cabernet are the gold standards. Conversely, the most challenging pairing is always the salad course, particularly when a creative chef insists on including flavorful ingredients that clash with the complex flavors and subtleties of collector-level wines. For example, a classic Caesar Salad should be avoided at all costs since the traditional garlic dressing and croutons will numb your palate, severely impairing the enjoyment of any subsequent wine tastings. Other popular ingredients to avoid would be most types of fruit, cheeses, or pickled vegetables. In fact, the salad course is definitely the best opportunity to go with the “less is more” adage since most ingredients will diminish the enjoyment of fine wine.

That said, I have successfully vetted several delicious salad options and recommend the following dressing (at bottom) and wine-friendly ingredients. This salad should pair well with virtually any red wine, particularly younger Pinot Noir, Cabernet, or Rhone blends. Note: For evenings that featured rare wines with 10+ years of cellar age, I recommend skipping the salad course altogether or keeping the ingredients to a minimum (e.g. only lettuce + lightly marinated mushrooms)

Recommended Ingredients:
· Any non-bitter lettuces
· Beets
· Nuts (not candied or spicy!)
· Mushrooms ok if marinated in dressing (not garlic)
· Note: Avocado is neutral

My favorite Salad Dressing to pair with red wine:
· 75% fancy (viscous) olive oil
· 20% aged balsamic vinegar
· 5% soy sauce (I use Bragg’s for wife’s allergies)
· And a dash of favorite mustard (Dijon is fine)

Ingredients to Avoid:
· Garlic in dressing or croutons
· Tomatoes,
· Cured vegetable such as sun dried tomatoes or artichoke hearts,
· Peppers or chilies
· Pickled vegetables,
· Raw asparagus (BIG no-no!)
· Any cheese except maybe buffalo mozzarella or light parmesan cheese,
· Any fruit except beets,

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