What’s the best wine for that salad? The answer lies in your choice of dressing.

By Ray Isle
July 31, 2020
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What's the best wine for that height-of-summer, straight-from-the-farmers-market, pile-of-glorious-leafy-greens salad you just made? The answer: It depends. And what it really depends on is what kind of dressing you’re putting on that salad.

When it comes to leafy salads, the classic “it’s not the meat; it’s the sauce” suggestion for pairing wine with steak transfers over quite seamlessly. Love a tart vinaigrette? Creamy, ranch-style dressing? Sweet sesame-ginger? Consider this: The tanginess, creaminess, and light sweetness of each of those styles, respectively, will affect the flavor of the wine you pour. Now, is it a make-or-break situation, where your dinner guests will throw down their napkins in horror if you don’t pick something that goes absolutely effortlessly with the food you’ve made? Of course not. (And if they do, they’re really not people you should keep spending time with.) Look at it this way: Thinking about what wine goes best with a specific type of food is fun—it’s a game for the senses, one that can have delicious results.

Don’t believe me that something as simple as a salad dressing can change the way a wine tastes? Check it out yourself—with one of the great bottles recommended here.

Sauvignon Blanc with Vinaigrettes

Tart, acidic dressings go best with super-tart wines, like Sauvignon Blanc. The higher acidity in the food wins out on your palate and will actually make the wine taste fruitier and less acidic. Next time, taste the wine, then the dressing on its own, then the wine again—the change is eye-opening.

2019 Honig Sauvignon Blanc ($20)

Honig has been making great Sauvignon Blanc for 40 years now, and 2019 is no exception. Think fresh herbs, grapefruit cordial, and juicy melon notes.

2019 Alma De Cattleya Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc ($22)

Winemaker Bibiana González Rave ferments this lemon-blossomy Sauvignon in neutral French oak to enrich its texture without adding oak flavors.

2018 St. Supéry Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($22)

Tangy lime marmalade flavors shoot through this fresh, appealing white from a well-respected Napa Valley producer.

2018 Marchesi Di Grésy Langhe Sauvignon ($22)

This Italian producer is known for Barbaresco, but they also make this crisp white. Cool, minty notes with sweet lemon flavors make it a surprise winner.

2019 Greywacke Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($23)

Kevin Judd makes one of New Zealand’s best Sauvignon Blancs: refined yet intense, with citrus peel and sweet grapefruit notes throughout.

Credit: Photo by Greg DuPree / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer

Pinot Gris with Ranch-Style Dressings

For creamy dressings, like ranch, Caesar, or buttermilk, go with a wine that has a fair amount of body but also some acidity to balance out the dressing’s richness; otherwise the wine will end up tasting flat. Oregon Pinot Gris or dry Alsace versions (some are sweet) are great choices.

2018 Elk Cove Vineyards Willamette Valley Estate Pinot Gris ($19)

Adam Campbell is one of Oregon’s top winemakers. That shows in this lively white, full of spiced-apple flavors.

2019 Lange Estate Classique Willamette Valley Pinot Gris ($19)

A light earthiness underpins this mouth-filling white, its ripe red apple and nectarine flavors ending on a light, balancing tingle of acidity.

2018 Mittnacht Freres Alsace Pinot Gris ($25)

This Alsace estate is one of the few biodynamic growers in the region. This rich but elegant white offers snappy acidity along with ripe peach fruit.

2018 Ponzi Willamette Valley Pinot Gris ($19)

Ponzi’s interpretation of Pinot Gris is spot on, with kumquat and nectarine flavors and a flinty finish. It’s ripe and rich, but the fresh acidity keeps everything lifted and alive.

2017 Léon Beyer Alsace Pinot Gris ($28)

Alsace Pinot Gris is sometimes sweet, but this bottling—from an estate founded in 1580 and still owned by the same family—is dry, with a luscious texture and spiced-peach flavors.

Riesling & Vouvray with Sweet Dressings

Sweet dressings, for instance a sweet-spicy ginger-sesame dressing—will actually make lightly sweet wines taste less so (and, conversely, make dry wines taste a bit harsh). Vouvrays from France and off-dry Rieslings are both great partners here.

2018 Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling ($9)

This widely available white is a superb deal—lightly off-dry, it offers plenty of juicy green apple and peach fruit.

2017 Clos Du Gaimont Vouvray La Monaco ($20)

Unusually affordable for a single-vineyard Vouvray, this succulent, apricot-rich Chenin Blanc comes from a family that’s been farming grapes in France’s Loire Valley since the mid-1700s.

2018 Georg Breuer Gb Charm Rheingau Riesling ($20)

Passion fruit and citrus flavors,plus acidity so electric it tingles,make this Riesling from winemaker Theresa Breuer a steal.

2018 Domaine Pichot Domaine Le Peu De La Moriette Vouvray ($21)

Long name, modest price, great quality—why not? This passion fruit–scented wine comes from vineyards that aren’t treated with chemical pesticides.

2018 Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Clare Valley Riesling ($22)

Classic Aussie Riesling notes of lime peel and talc run through this white. It’s off-dry but so bright and zesty you might not even perceive the sweetness.