Tomato Pairings

Food & Drink - August 6th, 2010

by J.K. Whelehan

Have you ever tried matching wine to a tomato? Surprisingly enough, it can be a useful exercise to explain some of the concepts of wine and food matching.

Tomatoes on their own (and depending on how they are cooked) generally go well with whites, just like other vegetables. Sweet, ripe cherry tomatoes, a personal favorite, tend to go well with full whites with a soft acidity, such as a chardonnay from a warm climate. However, with less ripe tomatoes you would probably need a wine with a fresher acidity like a sauvignon blanc. If you like to experiment, try to match with some slightly chilled light reds. As fruit ripens, sweetness goes up and acidity goes down, and so broadly speaking you are trying to match these components in the tomatoes to the wine.

If you are looking at matching with dishes where tomatoes are used as a sauce, you then need to consider other factors. Tomato sauce tends to be a mixture of chopped up tomatoes, salt, pepper and some herbs. So for example take ratatouille, typically a mixture of vegetables (including tomatoes). If you added such a tomato sauce to a pre-made ratatouille, you will find that the dish goes well with whites or light reds, though you should find your first choice will still be a full white with a soft acidity. The additional factor here, however, is the serving temperature. Ratatouille is normally served slightly chilled in summer, a factor which contributes to it pairing with whites. Here again you can try to match this dish with slightly chilled light reds, too. In this case, add more tomatoes and serve the ratatouille at a higher temperature than when served with whites. As a broad rule of thumb, chilled food goes better with white wine, while hot dishes invite reds.

Moving this theme one step forward, you could take the same tomato sauce, and by adding minced pork and beef meat, garlic and a little bit of jalapeño, the selection of wine moves from medium to full bodied reds. In summary, with tomatoes and in general vegetables, the more they are processed (fermented, cooked, etc.). the fuller the wine. So no matter how you pronounce it, you now have matched the tomato to the full range of whites to reds.

J.K. Whelehan is a Tokyo-based wine expert and writer, as well as coauthor of the best-selling book Japanese Dishes for Wine Lovers, published by Kodansha and available from Amazon.