Quite a few folks have been asking me about what kind of wine to have not only with cuisine, but what kind of wine to consume during this continued hot weather. Traditionally, red wines have taken a back seat to white wines and rosé wines, and the trend continues. The obvious reason this is true is because the type of cuisine one tends to prepare during warm to hot temperature periods are not typically heavy meals. Gardens are flush with produce and this is the season we see cool, fresh salads and lighter fare on the grill. Let's look at wine choices for this lighter fare:
Salads — If there is a downer for serving wine with salads, it is vinegar. Vinegar acidifies the taste of wine and sharpens the experience with volatile acidity which can ruin a good glass of any wine. Balsamic vinegars are sweet and, again, can alter the taste of wines to a very large degree. The key to the use of vinegar is to be moderate and use the ingredient sparingly. Vinegar can also be aged in wood, which adds its own distinctive style to salads. It may deter the freshness of the salad as well as the distinctness of the wine served. Read the labels carefully before choosing vinegar as some of the offerings can be very cheap, harsh and unpleasant, and can ruin an otherwise fun wine experience.
Oils — Olive oil is one of the Earth's true blessings. Many years ago I attended an olive oil tasting in Parma, Italy, and was astounded by the range and depth found in olive oil produced within Italy. I am truly not an expert in olive oil but the fact remains that the "flavored" oils; that is, oils which are herbed or scented, can cause a real problem with wine pairing. My very Italian mother, who was a tremendous chef, used to shake her head at these "new" products and wondered what the problem was in adding herbs or spices when needed instead of having these "things" (she used to call them) added to oil. The problem is, of course, there is very little control between the need for oil and whatever herb is introduced in solution; the more oil needed to do the job means the more influence of the herb in the cuisine, which affects wine appreciation.
Salt — In today's world, we are looking at salt differently. There are low-sodium dressings in abundance and many of us, especially as we age, are asked to cut down on sodium intake. Salt, in excess, interferes in the appreciation of wine. Salt also, in amazingly small amounts, influences cuisine in a major way and can put a meal off very quickly. Anchovies added to salads can interfere with wine appreciation as they are intense in flavor and usually dripping in brine. This is also true of many kinds of olives; the sodium content can be very high which, again, interferes with the appreciation of wine.
Heat — Piquant salads, with the use of cracked or whole peppers, can blow the palate off the map and destroy the tasting ability of the diner. Small amounts of paprika, white or black pepper work well but anything hotter can be damaging to the sensitivity of the palate. Salads tossed with Indian or Asian spices should be carefully monitored, especially if a delicate white wine is served.
Think fresh and minimalist when building salads for an entrée and remember that croutons, crackers and many artisan breads can also be herbed and highly salted as well as heavy and thick which, again, will influence greatly the appreciation of wine.
Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland and still works there part time. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.