Pair hearty steak salads with substantial reds tannic enough to cut through the juiciness and fat of the meat. / © Helene Dujardin
As a fairly carnivorous person, I tend to feel that if I’m going to be eating a salad, I might as well have some wine with it, just to give the whole enterprise some sort of point. To that end, here are a few thoughts about pairing wines with salads.
Green Salad with Vinaigrette
This illustrates a basic pairing idea, which is that acidity likes acidity. Pour a low-acid white like a Chardonnay with a vinaigrette, and you won’t taste the wine at all; pour a tart, zingy white like a Sauvignon Blanc or an Albariño, and the vinegar in the dressing will actually bring out the fruitiness of the wine. (Essentially, food trumps wine when it comes to taste, so the tartness of the dressing makes your mouth perceive the wine as less tart than it actually is.)
Salads with Creamy Dressings
Ah, ranch dressing. Actually invented on a dude ranch, you know—the Hidden Valley Ranch, near Santa Barbara. Then, in 1972, the brand was purchased by Clorox. Generally speaking, we don’t associate bleach with salad dressing, but there it is. Regardless, ranch dressing and others of its ilk are creamy, high in fat and modest when it comes to acidity. Oregon Chardonnays and Pinot Griswould both be excellent options; California Chardonnay, as long as it’s not so big and buttery that you ought to be pouring it on the salad itself, would also be good.
I like to think of the French thought process behind this insanely good salad as something like this: “Sacre bleu! We take zee bacon and zee egg, and we put zem on top of the salad! Eet is like breakfast—with leaves!” Culinary geniuses, to be sure. But wine-wise, you’ve got egg (protein), bacon (protein, fat), bacon fat in the dressing (um, fat), a little tanginess and some greens. Think light red or a crisp rosé—a measure of tannins or acidity or both, and enough substance to go with a fairly filling salad. For an alternative, Champagne, which goes very well with eggs indeed.
I think the Tuscans have it right when it comes to the idea of steak and salad. Basically, take a big, beautiful steak (the classic bistecca fiorentina), grill it to perfection and slap it on top of a bunch of argula (which then wilts). Drizzle it with great olive oil. Sprinkle some sea salt on top. See? Steak + salad. Clearly, the thing to drink with a fine meal like this is a substantial Tuscan red: Chianti Classico Riserva, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano. You’ll need those tannins to cut through the juiciness and fat of the meat. And the salad? Oh, right. It’s under the steak. Don’t worry about it.