Thursday, May 19, 2016

Wine with Tomato-Based Dishes

By Liza B. Zimmerman

We have been in love with the tomato for hundreds of years. It didn't arrive in Europe until around the 16th Century and is believed to have been grown by the Aztecs centuries ago.

The tomato is technically a fruit and part of the nightshade family, that includes peppers and eggplants. They were often thought to have curative properties and sometimes be aphrodisiacs. Regardless of their other health benefits, we know that they brighten up salads come summer and are essential in all kinds of pasta dishes and as a base for stews year round.

Their intense and acidic flavor can, sadly, make them hard to pair with wine. What grows together goes together is often the case and Italian-influenced, tomato-based sauces are often best enhanced with a touch of Italian wine: either in the sauce or on the side. The well-defined acidity and assertive flavors tend to work hand in hand.

Italian Picks
Tuscan Sangiovese has a beautiful pepper and spice flavor profile that works beautifully with tomatoes. It generally has structured fruit flavors and a lengthy acidity that works well with the deep flavors a tomato can bring to a dish.

The Rocca di Frassinello "Le Sughere di Frassinello" Maremma Toscana 2012 is a great pick. It's an intense blend, fueled by herb and tobacco flavors that can run around the block with tomatoes.

Keep in mind that too much balsamic vinegar on a salad will overwhelm almost any wine. Charring tomatoes before you serve them can also give them a toasty and roasty flavor that will highlight herbal and dusty notes in some wines.

A big, but worth it, splurge, would be La Fortuna Brunello Di Montalcino 2010. It is a great wine from a suburb vintage. It  is a 100 percent Sangiovese that has some earthy aromas that will complement tomatoes.

Other Tomato-Friendly Suggestions
Balanced acidity and herbal and earthy flavors are key to complementing tomato dishes. Loire Valley wines and some rustic Syrahs would also be good choices. Earthy and black-pepper driven wines such as Domaine Grosbois "La Cuisine de ma Mere" Chinon 2014 will complement a range of vegetal flavors, including those of the assertive tomato.

The funk and spunk of France's Rhone Valley Syrah-driven wines will also stand up beautifully with tomato-driven dishes. Some of these wines can be too redolent of earth and too packed with vegetal flavors but the Yann Chave Crozes-Hermitage 2012 is a great choice. It is 100 percent Syrah and full of spices.

Wines with high alcohol levels are likely to overwhelm the fresh and herbal tomato flavors. So the key here is too look for well-balanced wines grown in not overly hot climates. Hilly and breeze-rich areas are likely to produce the most tomato-friendly wines out there.

Some of Sicily's ever-evolving Nero d'Avolas might also fit the bill, particularly those grown in the Southeast part of the country. Tasca d'Almerita "Lamuri" Nero d'Avola 2014 is a fruit-forward example that also has some great herbal notes.

By all means have some fun, mix it up with your tomato-based dishes this summer and play around with some of your favorite wines. Just keep in mind that many of the best choices will come from areas where tomatoes have long been grown and appreciated.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza B. Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

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