This may seem like the oddest 'What Pairs With' piece I have ever done to some. For those who have been around my food and wine journey, you know that one of the food items I have struggled pairing with is the unassuming cucumber. I am happy to report that I finally cracked the secret to pairing wine with cucumber, and I want to share that with all of you.
I am a big fan of sliced cucumber with my main dishes and simple cucumber salads, and that has exposed me to how finicky this fruit can be with wine. For years I have asked others in the wine industry what to pair with cucumber, but their suggestions seemed to be more generic and related to the average salad, not considering how bitter the cucumber skin can be. As an aside, people take for granted how important it is to consume the skin of cucumber for fibre, so I never peel the skin off of cucumber as I need every ounce of health positivity in this turbulent time! All that aside, what is important to remember is that cucumber skin has an earthy and bitter taste present, so much so that it will clash with most wines.
What Wines Pair with Cucumber
Understanding that a cucumber's major flavour profile (its skin) is reminiscent of sweet rind and bitter, there are a few wines you can cancel out. Highly tannic wines will intensify the bitterness on the palate, and sweet wines will have to contain noticeable residual sugars to work with your cucumber, but that will not always do for the rest of the food on your plate. You will need a wine that will handle bitter and a bevy of potential other flavours as the cucumber will not be your meal's 'hero' item. The pairing wine you want is a white wine with body (preferably from phenolics), high acid, and ripe fruit descriptors on the palate. You may still be scratching your head on the wines required, but the previous describes the following wines, and these are your cucumber friendly vinos, with healthy phenolic bitterness for weight and structure:
Pinot Gris/Grigio: great examples are found in France and Italy, but this grape is essentially grown worldwide now. Expect lemon, lime, pear, peach, some anise, pink grapefruit, saline qualities.
Albariño: a white wine from Spain that is found on the coast. This is a refreshing white wine with lemon/lime, peach, pear, sometimes apricot, minerality that adds texture, and green vegetal notes that make it an exciting food wine and not just a sipping wine.
Alvarinho: a white wine from Portugal, and it is the same grape as Albariño that we find in Spain. The tasting notes are generally the same. I have separated it, though, to discuss some misconceptions around this wine. In North American markets, most of the white wines we see labelled as Vinho Verde are made of Alvarinho, but it is important to remember that Vinho Verde is the wine region and not the name of the wine. A little over 14% of the wines produced in Vinho Verde are red wines. These wines are delicious with red fruit, crisp acidity, and earthy notes. Check out producer Vasco Croft for some lovely expressions of red Vinho Verde!
Torrontés: a highly aromatic white wine from Argentina that either builds die-hard fans or die-hard enemies; it really is a personal choice. I find well-made Torrontés on a hot day, quite refreshing and highly quaffable. With this grape, you'll find lemon and other ripe citrus flavors, along with ripe peach, honey, melon, lavender, rose, and resilient minerality.
Cheers to finally cracking the cucumber pairing conundrum. Happy pairing all!