Winter has come and gone, and while heavier foods tend to dominate the landscape of our tables during the winter months, spring and summer bring a bounty of magnificent crisp vegetables to the fore. Debi van Flymen looks at how to pair wine with a seasonal spring salad.

Salads were once little more than lettuce leaves and palate cleansers but today they are more often hearty meals full of texture, fabulous flavour and exciting ingredients. So why spoil a delicious glass of your favourite wine by not thinking through your pairing? There’s no reason to shy away from drinking a glass of wine with your salad; just follow some tips for a pleasant eating experience

Balance acidity

Taste, taste and taste some more to make sure your pairing is balanced. Remember that vinegar can accentuate the tannins in a red wine and potentially make some white wines taste sweet, so look at replacing the vinegar in your recipes with other ingredients – fruit juice, sherry, stocks, pan juices and infused oils. Rice and cider vinegars are often less harsh on the palate and can be incorporated into dressings well. Also, don’t forget that some cheeses can be acidic too. Think about sautéing shallots or roasting garlic instead of adding them to raw dressings. Bottom line: go easy on the vinegar!

Dress for success

Think about your dressing and up its oil content as this enhances the mouth feel and dials down the acidity. Add a bit of Dijon mustard – while still containing vinegar, it is less powerful and helps emulsify the dressing. Vary the oils – nut oils, avocado oil and infused oils all add opportunities to enhance the flavour of your dressing and add some lovely wine-friendly savoury notes to the meal.

Analyse ingredients

There’s more to most salads than the green bits. If your salad is full of a particular protein such as chicken, fish or meat, then this is the ingredient you need to pair the wine with while balancing the acidity of the dressing. Think about what is sprinkled on top – crisp fried onions, croutons, sprinkled nuts and seeds – they too are ingredients. Fruits feature more frequently in salads too in both their fresh and dried states – dried cherries or cranberries can open the way to interesting light bodied red wines like Gamay and Grenache Noir.

Body issues

Think about body. A full-bodied, rich, buttery Chardonnay is not going to accompany a crisp Watercress and cucumber salad well, nor would a crisp, light Sauvignon Blanc partner well with a Grilled duck breast salad laden with walnut oil and exotic mushrooms. The key here is to look at the weight of the dish and the components in it – especially the proteins, when it comes to pairing.

Avoid big tannins

Heavy bodied red wines will never work with light, fresh salads – unless, and here’s the caveat, that salad is laden with red meat. If that’s the case you should pair the wine based on the salad’s ingredients, but keep in mind that big red wines will always taste more tannic with a highly acid dressing and even if a red’s paired with a hearty steak salad, it can easily overwhelm the dish.

Up the umami

Anchovies, truffles, tamari, aged cheeses, mushrooms and a plethora of ingredients have natural glutamates that add substantial savouriness to your salad. These secret ingredients make the dish more savoury and add body. They allow for more developed wines, even those with a bit of bottle age, to pair well with your salad.

Add fat

Not bad fat, though, as we’re talking about salads here and most people opt for salad as a lighter alternative. Fats such as nuts, seeds, low fat cheeses, oils and the like make wines more palatable with salads. Ingredients such as salmon skin, macon, bacon and pancetta as well as hard boiled eggs bring good fat and texture to the salad. Balance is again the key. Instead of pairing a spinach and citrus vinaigrette with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, think spinach with a warm pancetta dressing and some crumbled blue cheese for a rich, salty and more palate pleasing sensation. This will stand up to a bigger selection of wines and not have such an astringent character.

Chill out

Don’t be afraid to chill a light bodied red wine such as a Gamay or Beaujolais. Besides the fact that the room temperature at which most of these wines are suggested to be served are room temperature in typically cooler European climes, not Africa, chilling a red wine can mute some of the character and make it a better pairing for a crisp cold salad.

Bubbles and rosés

Sparkling wines including Champagne can be a lovely match with crisp salads – especially those with some fat content as the natural acidity of these wines cleanses the palate. Rosés can offer the best of both worlds. In addition to the often fruitier examples in South Africa, a slightly more savoury Old World rosé can complement a salad beautifully. Some wines with just a hint of sweetness can complement a salad terrifically like a Viognier or a Riesling.