Salad comes in many different guises – too many, in fact, to count. It can be served as a first course, side dish or main dish.
However, a green salad is very different in taste, weight, aroma and consistency to a sausage & cheese salad. Potentially, a whole raft of wines go with salad, depending on the salad and, of course, the dressing, which is usually the key determinant.
When it comes to pairing with wine, some dressings are simpler than others. All dressings containing eggs or a lot of acidity are tricky to match with wines. By this we mean dressings with a lot of vinegar, crème fraîche, yoghurt, mayonnaise or lemon juice. It's better not to drink wine with these dressings. In contrast, wine-friendly dressings contain little acidity. They are usually oil-based but, instead of vinegar, contain balsamic with the merest hint of sweetness, soy sauce, sesame, herbs and other aromatic main ingredients.
Our experts’ wine recommendations for salad
Leaf salads and neutral salads
Green salad has a distinctive aroma that is fine and delicate and is instantly overpowered by wine. Moreover, the standard dressings for green salad almost invariably contain vinegar and, frequently, mayonnaise or yoghurt. For this reason, green salad is best enjoyed without wine. The same applies to chicory, endives, radicchio and other bitter leaves, because the bitter constituents do not sit well with wine.
With fennel salad: Verdejo from Rueda such as Marqués Riscal Rueda.
Fennel is a very crunchy vegetable with a pronounced and distinctive flavour. Verdejo is a crisp, aromatic and fresh white wine that typically has both citrus aromas and notes of aniseed and fennel.
Dressed salads are robust salads that are served with the dressing stirred in. Some examples are potato salad, coleslaw, Caesar salad, lentil or cucumber salad. These salads are easier to combine with wine than green or vegetable salad, because they are often more hearty and display more complex aromas. However, the dressing must still be the primary consideration. If the dressing is wine-friendly, these salads make a good starter and taste wonderful with sparkling wine, robust rosés or medium-heavy white wines.
With Caesar salad: a robust sparkling wine such as Contadi Castaldi brut.
A Caesar salad is traditionally served with Parmesan dressing and garlic croutons, so it needs an aromatic and slightly more full-bodied wine accompaniment. A zingy sparkling wine further enhances the light and crunchy mouthfeel of the crispy croutons.
With carrot salad: a light Chardonnay such as Chardonnay Chile Los Vascos.
Carrot salad has a sweet note due to the high sugar content of the carrots, and a subtle yet distinctive aroma. Chardonnay also has little aroma, but a creamy, soft mouthfeel that works in harmony with the sweetness of the carrots.
With cucumber salad: robust rosé such as Château Aquéria Rosé Tavel.
Normally, dill is also an ingredient in cucumber salad. Dill is highly aromatic and has a sweet note. Rosé delivers additional red fruit notes, and this juicy, fresh fruit harmonizes with the sweet dill.
Sweet exotic salads
Exotic salads such as Thai papaya salad or curried rice salad are distinguished by sweet or hot dressings and are often very spicy too. These salads are not easy to pair with wine, because heat or too much spice overwhelm the flavour of many wines. So again, the dressing must be the primary consideration. If you want fruit in your salad, the best choices are sweet fruits such as papaya or melon. Sour fruits such as oranges or apples often clash with dry wines. If the dressing is wine-friendly, these salads make a good starter and taste wonderful with elegant sparkling wines, light rosés or fruit-laden white wines.
Curried rice salad
With curried rice salad: aromatic, mild white wine such as Blanck Gewürztraminer Alsace AOC.
Aromatic, mild curry harmonizes with the exotic aromas of Gewürztraminer and the wine's breadth and low acidity delivers additional volume and soft texture.
Thai papaya salad
With Thai papaya salad: a sweet yet refreshing sparkling wine such as Araldica Moscato d'Asti.
In Thai cooking, chilli is a permanent fixture. The very low alcohol content (5–6 percent by volume) and the residual sweetness of Moscato d'Asti prevent burning heat on the palate, and the wine's fruity, grapey aromas go wonderfully with papaya.
Seafood salad with mussels and shrimps often has a distinctly sweet note and is usually dressed with lemon juice, olive oil and, depending on preference, herbs. As long as the lemon juice is understated, there are plenty of dry, fresh wines that work very well.
Seafood salad with herbs
With seafood salad with herbs: an aromatic and fresh white wine such as Sancerre Fournier.
Sancerre has its own aroma that is herby and salty and harmonizes exceptionally well with this type of dish.
Rustic seafood salad
With a rustic yet tasty seafood salad dressed only with olive oil, a dash of lemon juice, salt and pepper: an unpretentious, minerally Chablis such as Les Vaillons A. Bichot Chablis Premier Cru AOC.
Chablis has a subtle aroma and is the most refreshing variety of Chardonnay. Despite its elegance, it also brings soft texture and, with it, additional volume to the dish.
Hearty salads/home cooking
By hearty salads, we mean boiled meat salad, sausage & cheese salad and other heavy salads that are usually eaten as a main course. These salads, often enjoyed warm, call for a robust wine. And precisely because these salads have hearty ingredients and more complex aromas, they go well with wine. However, the dressing must still be the primary consideration. If the dressing is wine-friendly, these salads taste wonderful with white wines aged in the barrique, with robust red wines and matured sparkling wines pressed according to the traditional method.
Sausage & cheese salad
With sausage & cheese salad: a robust red wine packed with acidity and tannins, such as Chianti Ricasoli.
Both sausage and cheese are very high in fat. Because of this, they go with a wine with acidity and tannins that cleanse the palate of fat with every gulp. The rustic, Mediterranean character of Sangiovese also gives this dish the ambience it needs.
Pasta salad with cheese and vegetables
With pasta salad with cheese and vegetables: a juicy, fruit-laden red wine without much barrique, such as Quinta Nova.
As pasta does not really have a flavour of its own, pasta dishes normally involve a lot of sauces and dressings. To complement the dressing and the salad with a fruity component, a wine with an intensely fruity aroma is an excellent choice.