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Salad Days - Wine Choices for Summer Food
Copyright 2003 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed July 21, 2003. For more information go to

When the weather's too sultry to cook and even the charcoal grill seems daunting, a cool salad will bring your temperature down.

So will our dinner choice last night, a bowl of spaghetti with what the Italians call salsa cruda ("raw sauce"), a cool blend of chopped juicy tomatoes, fresh from the garden, with a handful of finely chopped fresh basil and parsley, minced garlic, a dash of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and black pepper, topped with crumbles of mild goat cheese (or, if you like, creamy fresh mozzarella).

But can such a light supper stand up to wine?

Well, sure. In the salad department, making dinner meet the wine is generally as simple as adding something more filling than the basic rabbit food. Put on some good tuna, black olives and sliced eggs to fashion a Salade Nicoise, and choose a bone-dry, crisp and herbal Provence rose as the perfect wine match.

Or top your Caesar salad with grilled chicken, and match it with any crisp, dry white from Sauvignon Blanc to Pinot Grigio. Or a dry, lightly sparkling Italian Prosecco. Alternatively, you can serve your salad with an American pink wine even a sweetish White Zinfandel if that suits your tastes, or a dry, Euro-style rose such as the French-accented Vin Gris de Cigare from Bonny Doon.

One important wine-and-salad-matching tip: Avoid using a tart, vinegary dressing on your dinner salad, as this can "war" with wines. Creamy dressings, or vinaigrettes that rely on a good dose of olive oil and just a dash of lemon juice or mild balsamic, will do the trick.

But back to that salsa cruda: If your dinner has tomatoes in it, you can't go wrong with a Chianti, or just about any dry, fruity and acidic red wine in the Chianti style, based on the Sangiovese grape. It's no coincidence that Italians have been sipping Sangiovese with tomato-based dishes for centuries, as the tart- sweet, snappy flavors of both the wine and the tomato make natural partners.

Try it ... you'll like it.


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