If you drink a wine alongside too much vinegar, it can make a perfectly good wine taste sour.
I received an email from a reader regarding drinking wine with salads. The crux of the question was whether the vinegar used in the dressing is detrimental to wine. The answer is: sometimes.
Many people in the industry won’t serve vinegar at a wine tasting. In fact, when I stayed in Provence with a winemaker, there wasn’t even a bottle of the stuff in her house. When I asked what she uses for salads, her response was “just olive oil.”
While I have nothing against olive oil, her salad lacked that familiar zip one gets from a classic vinaigrette. But I understand why she is terrified by vinegar. Acetic acid, the acid what makes vinegar taste sour, is also a serious wine fault: volatile acidity (VA). While many “great” wines might have small amounts of VA, as it can augment the aromatics in a wine, too much can make a wine finish with a slight vinegar note.
So if you drink a wine alongside too much vinegar, it can make a perfectly good wine taste sour. This is not to say you can’t drink wine at the same time as vinegar, but in many high-end restaurants, the salad course is often served separate from the other courses.
But I think this is going way too far. You can, if you really want to play safe, use lemon or lime instead of vinegar. This acid, citric acid, is already one of the acids found in white wines, so you would simply be adding to the total acidity of the combination.
What’s most important is you choose the right wine. The reader who sent me the email was drinking a rich chardonnay with her goat cheese salad. That is a bad call.
One of the cardinal rules for sommeliers in food and wine pairing is you want more acidity in your glass than on your plate. If not, the wine can taste dull and flat. And here-in lies the other difficulty when dealing with vinegar, or any acid-based salad dressing. Most wines, and especially red wines, do not have enough acidity to handle even the most mellow vinaigrette.
Fortunately, you have a whole host of choices when it comes to finding a wine to fit with your salads. In terms of white, grape varieties like sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, muscadet, riesling sylvaner, loureiro or albarino have enough acidity to defend against any vinegar.
Sparkling wines, whose base wines are very acidic, also are a great option. Ciders, wether sparkling or still, also are excellent and some of my favourite beverages to serve alongside a salad. The fruity apple note is also a natural compliment to any salad, especially at lunch.
If that’s too much white for you, there’s always rosé, especially lighter rosês from Provence. Again, its a question of more acidity in the glass than on the plate, and the majority of pink wines satisfy this criteria.
Eating lighter during summer shouldn’t take away from drinking well. Just make sure you choose the right wine.