Bill Daley, the superb wine columnist from the Chicago Tribune, asked for my tips on pairing wine with tomatoes. You can find more of my tomato and wine pairings in the Drinks Matcher: click on Start with a Food, then Vegetables/Salads. These pairings are also in the mobile wine apps for iPhone, iPod Touch, Android and Blackberry. Since we’re just coming into tomato season, we have lots of delicious days ahead of us!
A ripe tomato deserves to be showcased at the table with, at least, a sprinkling of good salt and, at most, a piece or two of mozzarella, basil sprigs and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. And, to make it even more celebratory, be sure to pour some wine even though there’s a challenge in finding one that will work with the lively, mouth-filling flavor tomatoes bring to the table.
Sommelier Marcus Will says the tart acidity of fresh tomatoes demands a wine equally electric or the wine will end up tasting flat.
“Move to a sauvignon blanc that’s zippy and slightly racy,” he says.
Will is not alone in recommending sauvignon blanc. Other experts suggest the herby sauvignon blancs from France’s Loire and Bordeaux regions.
Natalie MacLean, the wine writer, also points to sauvignon blanc on her Web site, Nat Decants (nataliemaclean.com). But there are other wines, both red and white, that can work with tomatoes, such as an Italian barbera, because of their acidity.
“When tomatoes are cooked in a multi-ingredient dish or in a sauce, such as ratatouille or marinara, they’re less harsh and their acid edge is softened,” she noted in an e-mail interview. “With these dishes, you can try other juicy Italian reds, such as Valpolicella, sangiovese and dolcetto. They all have complementary ripe red fruit aromas, a touch of spice and a mouth-awakening acidity.”
MacLean said pinot noirs from such cool climate regions as Burgundy, New Zealand and Oregon have a tartness to hold up to tomatoes. But warm-climate pinots, such as those from California and Australia, are “too ripe and flabby to hold their own,” she said.
A fresh approach
2005 Domaine de Bel Air Pouilly Fume: This sauvignon blanc from France’s Loire Valley perfectly matched the mouth-feel of tomatoes. Elegant, with notes of grapefruit and anise, this wine made the tomato taste even fresher. $23.
2004 Villa Giada Barbera d’Asti Ajan: Aromatic, with notes of spice, clove and pepper, this Italian red tasted of dark fruit and earth. Wine highlighted the tomato’s natural sweetness. $22.
2005 Gustave Lorentz Gewurztraminer Reserve: This Alsatian white was better poured on its own. The oily richness of wine got lost amid the tomato’s flavors. $18.
2004 Gobelsburger Gruner Veltliner: From Austria, this white offered butterscotch notes offset by a zesty acidity. Most tasters thought the wine overwhelmed the tomato. $18.
2004 Ruffino Chianti Superiore Il Leo: Rich Italian red with plump fruit underscored by notes of earth. Most tasters thought the wine did not improve when matched with the tomato. $17.
2005 Poderi Luigi Einaudi Dolcetto di Dogliani: Italian red with a very low profile, this wine’s unassuming berry flavors almost disappeared when paired with the tomato’s vitality. $19.