Remember the old chestnut "white wine with fish; red wine with meat"? Besides being too dogmatic, that so-called rule implies that wine is meant for only fish and meat. But what about vegetables? What about bountiful salads?
As I scanned the recipes for main-course classics, I started thinking about how, after pairing salads and wine for almost 20 years, I not only choose wines I've discovered work well, but I also instinctively tweak my salad ingredients to maximize the match. Here's what I've found on both sides of the equation.
Most good wines for salad have two things in common: They're not very oaky (which eliminates most Chardonnays), and they're not very tannic (which takes care of many Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons). Here are some of my favorites.
Delamotte Brut nonvintage (Champagne), $30. Cold Champagne on a warm summer night turns a salad into a feast. Delamotte has all the finesse, balance, and personality you could hope for.
Château Carbonnieux Bordeaux Blanc 1998 (Pessac-Leognan, France), $28. This wine isn't cheap, but it's sensational with salads. Minerally and sharp, with pinpoint freshness, it has a shower of lemon drops, hints of honey, and a wonderful touch of pear.
Chateau Souverain Sauvignon Blanc 1999 (Alexander Valley, CA), $12. With wonderful aromas and flavors reminiscent of snow peas, grass, herbs, and green figs, this Sauvignon is as zesty and crisp as a salad itself.
Zenato Pinot Grigio 2000 (Veneto, Italy), $10. Gertrude Stein's infamous quip about Oakland, California ("there is no there there"), could be applied to many Pinot Grigios as well. Not this one. Floral and creamy, it's laced with light peach, almond, and herbal notes.
SUNSET'S STEAL OF THE MONTH:
Columbia Winery: Cellarmaster's Riesling 2000 (Columbia Valley), $8. One of Washington State's best-kept secrets is its Rieslings, virtually all of which qualify as steals. This one's all apricots, honey, and citrus, with a faint echo of sweetness (just waiting for a salad with some spice).