GRAPEVINE

KATHRYN MCWHIRTER ON THE DAYS OF SALADS AND WINES
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The Independent Culture
SALAD days are here again - which means, according to old wine lore, that we should give up summer wine. Salads, or to be more precise salad dressings, have a reputation as wine spoilers. Well, that may be true for some wines, but it is not the whole truth. Some wines are quite brilliant partners for salads.

Salad dressings, being quite sharp, do tend to spoil wines whose own acidity is medium to low. Soft, lowish-acid wines such as southern French Chardonnays or Bordeaux Blanc taste flat and dull alongside the acidic dressing. That rules out most New World wines, except those from cool New Zealand. But wines with the sharpness to match, such as Sancerre or Muscadet, probably won't suffer at all. And if you want to drink a softer white, or a red (which is almost always softer), there are ways of doctoring your dressing to suit.

Some dressings are easier to match than others. One key to making your dressing wine-friendly is to keep the acid level on the lower side. The French themselves (if my long succession of au pairs is anything to go by) are very heavy on the vinegar. My current one uses two-thirds of oil to one-third vinegar, plus some sharp mustard. British recipes for French dressing tend to be less sharp. For this article, I made my dressings with three parts oil to one part vinegar or lemon juice, but in real life I sometimes use even less vinegar or juice.

The oil you choose has an important effect. One that's low in flavour, such as sunflower, safflower or grapeseed, does little to buffer the sharpness of the vinegar, and the dressing seems far more acidic than a one made with in the same proportions using olive oil.

Whatever the dressing's ingredients (one little trick apart), all my favourite matches had highish to high acidity. Perfect flavour blends varied with dressing ingredients, but you can't go far wrong with a dressed green salad and Bour-gogne Aligote, Vin de Pays des Cotes de Gascogne, Chablis, Muscadet, Champagne or fizzy Cremant de Bourgogne.

With a neutral oil/vinegar mix I went for Vinho Verde and Cham-pagne, both very high acid indeed, and none the worse for the dressing. An olive oil and red or white wine vinegar dressing was far easier to partner with wine. Best of all matches was with Aligote from Burgundy or Bulgaria, but the taste of Soave, Muscadet, Chablis, Sancerre or fizzy Cremant de Bourgogne was nearly as good. Among reds, Cabernet Sauvignons from a warm climate go well. Add Dijon mustard to your dressing, and whites work less well; reds, especially Cabernet Sauvignons, are better. Nonetheless, Muscadet sur Lie is brilliant with a mustard-enriched dressing and Alsace Riesling is good.

Wine buffs have always advised replacing vinegar with lemon juice to make a dressing more wine-friendly. A taste-off between the two puts lemon juice only a whisker ahead for its ability to match a big range of white wines (ones with good acidity) and reds. With lemon, the really brilliant flavour is crisp, unoaked Chardon-nay, such as the simplest, least expensive Chablis, or Champagne, or red Burgundy, but Aligote and Soave, Valpolicella and Merlot go very well, too.

The best trick for a really wine-friendly dressing is to use reduced wine as the acid component. Take some leftover white (it doesn't matter if it is undrinkably tired) and boil it until the volume is reduced by about two-thirds. The alcohol boils off, but the acidity stays and becomes more concentrated. The resulting dressing goes better with softer whites such as Bordeaux Blanc, and far better with reds - Valpolicella, warm- country Caber-nets and Merlots, good Beaujolais and red Burgundy - than dressings made with a very modest dose of vinegar or lemon juice, even if you need to up the quantity of reduced wine to get the balance right.

Balsamic vinegar joins mustard and reduced wine as the third magic ingredient to make an olive oil dressing more red-wine compatible. The same reds tend to work as with the reduced wine dressing, though Champagne and Vinho Verde go brilliantly if you want a white. Nut oils (mixed with lemon juice) find fewer wine partners than olive oil dressings. I'd go for Alsace Riesling or Vin de Pays des Cotes de Gascogne with a walnut oil dressing, Bourgogne Aligote or Muscadet sur Lie with hazelnut.

Other types of dressing may be less kind to wine. Yoghurt is bad news, though Muscadet might cope, and mayonnaise does wine no favours, though Muscadet again, or Verdicchio, come to the rescue; adding garlic helps a lot: try Aligote with a garlic and mayonnaise dressing.

And, of course, the salad ingredients make a difference, too. Raw vegetables such as red peppers or carrots, or cooked ones like potatoes or beetroot, often have a natural sweetness that suits a wine with a little sweetness of its own. "Dry" Champagne is a frequent success: its slight sweetness works well with coleslaw or carrot salad (which is also very good, unexpectedly, with really dry Aligote). The sweetness of beetroot salad (made with fresh- cooked beetroot and French dressing) chimes in brilliantly with slightly sweet German Riesling Kabinett. Tomato salad, despite its sweetness, goes with dry wines, especially the sharp, less expensive Sauvignons of the Loire (Sauvignon de Touraine or du Haut Poitou) or Sauvignon de Saint- Bris from Chablis country. And a mixed bean salad goes brilliantly with Sancerre or New Zealand Sau-vignon Blanc. So throttle back on the vinegar, and enjoy the days of wines and salads.

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