Asking which wine to pair with salad is a bit like asking about what wine to match with meat or fish. There are so many different types, there’s no single answer. It depends on the vegetables you use, what other ingredients it contains or accompanies and, most importantly, what type of dressing it has.
That said, salad is normally a light dish so a full-bodied wine - white or red - is almost certainly going to overwhelm it. Unless you’re talking about steak and salad in which case it’s a question of matching the steak not the leaves. Or salads for a barbecue when the marinades used for the meat will probably have more of an impact than the dressings.
The problem ingredient in salads is vinegar which can throw wines off balance, accentuating the tannins in serious reds and making whites seem excessively sweet. You can get round this by including a bit of cream in the dressing or whisking in some meat juices, especially the juice from a roasted chicken. Rice and cider vinegar are also less harsh than wine vinegar
Other tricky ingredients are raw onion or garlic, best dealt with, I find, by pairing them with dry whites or rosés that have a high level of acidity.
Wines that have an overtly fruity character tend to match well with salad especially if it contains fruit such as peach or apricot (try a fruity Chardonnay, Colombard or Viognier) or cherries (good with a fruity red such as a Gamay or Pinot Noir)
If there’s more than one salad on the table good all-rounders are fruity whites such as Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc and fruity rosés
Wine matches for 10 popular salads
Chicken caesar salad
Reasonably easy so long as it doesn’t have too much of an anchovy kick. A lightly oaked Chardonnay is a good match, a slightly fuller-bodied one if the chicken is chargrilled. Oaked Sauvignon Blanc and dry rosé also work well
Here the dominant ingredients are feta and olives which tend to work best with a citrussy white. Sauvignon Blanc - or Rueda - is fine but why not try a Greek Assyrtiko?
The locals would drink dry Provençal rosé and I can’t think of a better match. Although Cotes du Rhône rosés are quite a bit cheaper.
Spinach and bacon salad with blue cheese dressing
Ah. Blue cheese dressing. Very tricky! I’d personally go for a soft red like a medium-bodied Merlot but you could equally well drink a white. What’s needed I think is a slight touch of sweetness - a German Kabinett Riesling should fit the bill. Or an off-dry one from New Zealand or Washington State
Goats cheese salad with asparagus or beetroot
Goats cheese overrides all other ingredients when it comes to salads, even powerfully flavoured ones like asparagus and beetroot. Sauvignon Blanc is the classic match and hard to better, I find.
Warm pigeon, duck or chicken liver salad
Once you introduce meat into a salad I reckon you’re better off to think in terms of reds than whites. Pinot Noir is the obvious pairing but Loire reds and other light-bodied reds from e.g. south-west France work well too.
Seafood, prawn or shrimp salad, crab salad
Perhaps depend more than any other salad on the dressing. If the salad is built round some super-fresh shellfish like crab or prawns (shrimp) I’d go for a crisp minerally white like a Sancerre, Albarino, Picpoul de Pinet or Italian whites such as Pecorino and good quality Pinot Grigio. If you’re using a 1000 island dressing off-dry riesling should see you through. For tomato-based dressings see below.
Raw tomatoes are supposed to pose problems for wine, tomato salad even more so though I’ve never found it much of a problem. Dry rosé, crisp whites and Sauvignon Blanc generally hit the spot though I generally go for an Italian white like a Verdicchio with a tomato, mozzarella and basil salad or pappa al pomodoro
More often than not these are dressed with mayonnaise and are therefore quite mild in taste. I’d go for a smooth dry white like a Soave, Gavi, unoaked Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc
And here are five more:
And don't forget, beer and cider pair well with salad too, sometimes better than wine!