Hearty kale emerged as a widespread trend in the 1990s, but unlike sun-dried tomatoes and bacon on everything, kale is here to stay. Whether sturdy, curly kale, flat-leafed Russian kale or deeply hued cavolo nero—a.k.a. lacinato kale—this member of the cabbage family is equally delicious cooked or raw (massage it with your hands to both tenderize it and amp up the green color). Although it’s available year-round, kale has the best flavor and texture in late winter and early spring. Kale’s strong flavors are part of its appeal, and the right wine pairing can keep everything in balance.
Kale fans consider its bitterness to be an asset, but especially with older and larger kales, it can be overwhelming. Like honey in a salad dressing, balance it with a dash of sugar, as with a halbtrocken (half dry) Riesling. This German designation implies a hint of sweetness offset by Riesling’s trademark acidity.
With the wrong complementary flavors, kale’s earthiness can taste metallic. Some wines with a lot of perceived minerality can emphasis this, so try an Oregon Pinot Gris, which showcases flavors of stone fruit and sweet citrus, with nutty and spicy undertones.
While it may seem that one might accentuate the other, an acidic wine can help offset the tart bite of raw kale, much as lemony salad dressings do. Greece has the perfect pick with Assyrtiko. Besides bracing acidity, these wines offer smoky and saline flavors that bring out a subtle sweetness in kale.
Kale doesn’t have the pepperiness of arugula, but compared to spinach, for example, it has a forceful, even astringent, zip. Lean into this powerful character with a Barossa Valley Shiraz, full of rich fruit and warm spices. It’s terrific with a warm kale salad with bacon and lots of fresh-ground black pepper.
Published: February 25, 2022