Spring Greens

Soon our local salad greens are at their purest and best and will be popping up at farmers’ markets. Spring greens like arugula, watercress and mizuna are tender and sweet with delicate but pronounced flavors.

Unfortunately, most wines can overwhelm greens. Dressings can clash because their acidity can make wine taste flat. Light, crisp and fresh whites, however, can enhance the flavors of your salad.

Lighter wines are generally so because they’re lower in alcohol—which doesn’t mean they lack flavor. “Crisp” is a euphemism that describes a wine with high acidity, which is essential to balance the high acidity of a vinaigrette. Fresh wines signify young wines, without excessive oak or buttery flavors. Look for the youngest wines you can find with alcohol levels under twelve percent.

My favorite varietals with salads? Austria’s Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc (grown throughout the world), Portugal’s Vinho Verde and Spain’s Albariño. The following are some favorites available from fine wine retailers in the area.

Trapiche Torrontés Argentina, 2007, $8
Torrontés is a perfumed grape with floral aromas and citrusy flavors. A feather-weight and perfect spring wine.

Merryvale Sauvignon Blanc “Starmont” Napa Valley, 2007, $17
Snappy aromas of hay and herbs with palate-quenching flavors of citrus and fig. A great wine for very simple salads dressed with a lemon vinaigrette. Domaine

Wachau “Federspiel” Grüner Veltliner Austria, 2006, $15.50
Sweet flavors of mild mizuna echo the flavors of spring greens. Try with some julienned baby turnips to ratchet up the sweetness in the wine.

King Estate Pinot Gris Oregon, 2007, $16.50
More complex than an Italian Grigio and less cumbersome than most New-World styles, its elegance and satiny texture are a winner with smoked trout and spring greens.

Las Brisas (Blend of Verdejo with smaller amounts of Sauvignon Blanc and Viura) Rueda, Spain, 2007, $12
Lots of tangerine and mineral flavors; dry and round, you’ll keep reaching for the glass. Try with salads featuring shrimp.

The featured vintages are available at Madison’s finer wine stores. If unavailable, most purveyors will special order from their wholesalers if requested.

Michael Kwas is wine director at L’Etoile restaurant. He writes this column monthly.

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