The Tomato Wine
By Tod Stigall
Photos by Meda Kessler
It’s all about the acid when it comes to the perfect pairing
One of my favorite things year-round, but especially during the summer months, is a perfectly ripe tomato.
Another of my passions is enjoying the magic that occurs when the right wine is paired with the right food. Choosing the perfect vintage with a tomato-centric dish used to confound me. I was making all the wrong choices, so, this year, I started my quest to find the right “tomato wine.” One of my wine mentors, Dan Miller, a certified advanced sommelier, helped guide me to enlightenment.
In the past, I tried to seek out wines to complement the sweetness of a tomato. Dan says there might be a better path, since pairing a wine based upon a tomato’s sweetness would mute the flavors of the food.
With tomatoes, it is all about the acid. The key is to match them with high-acid wines such as Sancerre, sangiovese and various rosés, be they red, white, pink, still or sparkling. If a wine is described as “bright,” it likely is high in acid. There are two other attributes to avoid in pairing with tomatoes: high tannins (such as a Napa cabernet sauvignon or merlot) and “oakiness” (such as a “buttery” California chardonnay).
Serve a Jean-Maurice Raffault Chinon rosé with a salad of fresh tomato and raw sweet onion topped with Russian dressing and scallions alongside a grilled steak or burger.
Sweet tomatoes with cucumbers and scallions in a vinaigrette is another refreshing summer salad. A light-bodied white wine such as a Monteverro vermentino shines.
Txakoli (pronounced sha-kuh-lee), a crisp, dry white from northern Spain’s Basque region, pairs perfectly with fried green tomatoes, always a Southern favorite. Ameztoi makes a nice version and its rosé is also appropriate.
Red wines from southern France’s Languedoc-Roussillon or Côtes du Rhône regions pair well with fire-roasted tomatoes such as those grilled on a kebab or used to make a rich, smoky sauce. Some favorites include a Cochon Volant Corbières or Domaine de la Guicharde.
Tomato bisque is a favorite of mine for lunch or as a first course. The Côtes du Rhône-style white blend from California’s Tablas Creek, Patelin de Tablas Blanc, pairs well with the acidic and creamy elements of the soup.
For classic Italian red sauces such as those used in lasagna or eggplant Parmesan — a staple for me even in the summer — I like a Chianti Classico such as Ruffino or Tenuta di Arceno. A Nebbiolo is also a solid choice; producers like Arpepe and Massolino make enjoyable selections.
Dan left me with one fail-safe in picking a successful wine-tomato pairing. A rosé almost always works. That’s advice I can remember.
Tod Stigall is a wine and food lover who seeks out the best of both locally and on his travels.