Food & Drink

Tomatoes and wine, a delectable combination

Classic margherita pizza – the topping mirroring the colors of the Italian flag, with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil – pairs well with Italian-style wines.
Classic margherita pizza – the topping mirroring the colors of the Italian flag, with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil – pairs well with Italian-style wines. Chicago Tribune

Unlike asparagus, artichokes and arugula, notoriously challenging to pair with wine, summer tomatoes make for amiable companions with a wide range of wine styles. No significant ingredient in a dish may be more adaptable than the tomato, both in application and in pairing with wine.

The food-and-wine pairing mantra of the day – drink whatever wine you want with whatever food you want – could have been inspired by the tomato.

Nonetheless, several popular tomato dishes can be enhanced at least a bit when coupled with an especially well-suited wine, to wit:

Margherita pizza: So Italian, it’s a veritable edible version of the Italian flag – mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and basil, plus olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Take a cue from its Italian origins and reach for a wine modeled on Italian grapes. The Vino Noceto 2015 Shenandoah Valley Rosato di Sangiovese ($18) works with the pizza for its solid spine and refreshing fruit, while the Bray Vineyards 2015 Shenandoah Valley Barbera Rosato ($19) also has the pluck and sunny fruit to handle a version of the margherita even if it is unusually heavy on mozzarella. For something with a bit more body and spice, reach for a lighter-style zinfandel, such as the a’Campo 2014 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel ($20).

BLT on classic white bread: As sweet and tangy as the tomatoes may be, the bacon is apt to hog the spotlight, calling for a wine rich and complex. Don’t rule out a white wine, such as the Wente Vineyards 2014 Monterey Arroyo Seco Riva Ranch Single Vineyard Chardonnay ($22), whose sweet fruit, smoky oak and pointed acidity will stand up to the bacon while not overwhelming the tomatoes. Pink wines also work well with BLT, as long as they are firmly balanced, like the rich and forward Pedroncelli 2015 Dry Creek Valley Signature Selection Dry Rosé of Zinfandel ($12) and the steely and multifaceted Quivira Vineyards 2015 Dry Creek Valley Rosé ($22), a blend of mostly grenache supplemented with mourvèdre, syrah, counoise and petite sirah.

Spaghetti with oven-roasted tomato sauce: Back to Italy we go, or at least to grapes with their origins in Italy, principally barbera, which abounds in the Sacramento region. Barbera sings with tomato-enriched dishes like few others wines, in large part for its equally tangy acidity, its ample body and its direct fruit. When an oven-roasted tomato sauce is heading for the table, grab a bottle of the Andis Wines 2014 Amador County Barbera ($25), a gold-medal wine at this summer’s California State Fair for its pep and peppery spice. For a bit more weight and tannin, the graceful and persistent Helwig Winery 2014 Amador County Barbera ($24) will fit the bill; it also won a gold medal at the California State Fair. If the marinara is vibrant with rosemary or basil, try to find a bottle of the fruity, vivacious and enticingly herbal Milliaire Winery 2014 Calaveras County “Jeunesse” Primitivo ($24), a double-gold winner at the California State Fair.

Gazpacho: The first obligation of gazpacho is to be cool and refreshing, and that standard also applies to any wine poured alongside. The Mt. Beautiful 2015 North Canterbury Riesling ($22) has the energy and spine to dance gracefully with any relatively delicate take on gazpacho. For a thicker and more robust interpretation, consider either the exceptionally aromatic and complex Markus Wine Co. 2014 Lodi Nimmo ($22), an unorthodox blend of mostly kerner supplemented with gewürztraminer, riesling and bacchus, also a gold-medal wine at the California State Fair, or the fruit-packed J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines 2015 Paso Robles Gesture Viognier ($30), the best-of-show white wine at the California State Fair.

Wine critic and competition judge Mike Dunne’s selections are based solely on open and blind tastings, judging at competitions, and visits to wine regions. He can be reached at

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