We all know that too much salt in our diet is not a good thing. But, when used in moderation, salt can bring dull dishes to life and elevate such everyday food as sliced cantaloupe.
And these days, specialty salts are all the rage. At the Dean & Deluca store in the Napa Valley, more than 25 specialty salts from around the world are on display. One — a black truffle variety — goes for (are you sitting down?) $75 per pound.
Salt has a love/hate relationship with food. On the “love” side, there’s the aforementioned “elevating” role that it plays in cooking. “Mom always used to say that salt brings out the flavor in food,” a member of the Vinesse tasting panel observed. “It makes a hamburger taste like a hamburger, or a roast taste like a roast.” And when you know exactly how a dish tastes, it makes selecting a complementary type of wine a snap.
The “hater” aspect rears its ugly head when a dish tastes “salty.” Think of prosciutto or ham or bacon. While other flavors certainly are present, the saltiness often dominates. And that can be a nightmare for wine pairing.
That said, not all salty foods present vinous conundrums. In fact, as a general rule, Champagne or other sparkling wines make pretty safe “go-to” pairing partners for most salty dishes. (For a special and surprising treat, try sparkling wine with French fries.)
One more general rule: Avoid red wines with salty foods. Salt generally will make red wines taste “hot.”
But there are plenty of solid choices among non-red wines. For instance, with ham, a crisp rose works very well. With popcorn, try a buttery Chardonnay.
With other salty foods, try wines that are crisp — a trait that generally equates with a solid acid core. Options in this realm include Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Riesling and Gewurtztraminer.
And with specialty salts, the pairing partners multiply because the main food-and-wine rule still applies: Match the wine to the dominant flavor of the dish. It’s true of the sauce poured over a plate of pasta, and it’s true of the salt sprinkled on almost any dish.