Sweet, tangy, succulent, meaty—summer’s perfection is embodied in the sun-ripened tomato. And that perfection is precisely why tomatoes are considered a tricky wine match, says Andy Chabot, sommelier and director of food and beverage at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee, and an eight-time James Beard award nominee for Outstanding Wine Program.
“In the height of summer, a tomato is a perfect food,” Chabot explains. “It has a great balance of sugar and acidity and richness. Adding a wine pairing is difficult.”
The high acidity in tomatoes can create dissonant flavors when paired with the wrong wine, like two musical notes that clash rather than harmonize.
Perhaps tomatoes themselves are too strikingly similar to wine. Amy Goldman, Ph.D., author of The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table: Recipes, Portraits, and History of the World’s Most Beautiful Fruit (Bloomsbury USA, 2008) and chair of the board of the Seed Savers Exchange (a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds), describes an excellent tomato as “high in acid, high in sugar, very fine-flavored, and vine-ripened to develop its full complement of flavors, sugars and acids. You can feed yourself and your soul with tomatoes.”
Like wine grapes, tomatoes come in thousands of varieties, in colors from green to golden yellow to deep red to purple. Their flavors range from bracingly acidic to almost syrupy sweet, while their textures can run from eat-over-the-kitchen-sink juicy to dry and meaty.
And like grape varieties, tomato varieties have different qualities that perform well in certain preparations. Goldman broadly categorizes tomatoes this way:
Plum: Dry and meaty, they’re not very good fresh, but make incredible, textured sauces and soups.
Bell pepper: Mostly hollow, they’re delicious stuffed, either raw or cooked.
Beefsteak: Big and juicy, best for eating fresh.
Ribbed: With thick, meaty flesh and abundant seeds, these tomatoes make flavorful, thick sauces.
Cherry and currant: Generally highest in sugar and acid, these little tomatoes are uncommonly tasty and suited for eating fresh.
Globe: Round, juicy and tasty, perfect for slicing and juicing.
Pear: Their taste and texture are naturally suited for canning.
When pairing wine with tomatoes, consider the type of cultivar and preparation method. In their freshest form, tangy tomatoes sing with an equally fresh, vibrant wine, Chabot says, like Vinho Verde, Grüner Veltliner, Albariño or dry Riesling.
Exceptionally sweet, ripe tomatoes marry well with a slightly off-dry Riesling or Chenin Blanc, or even a Grenache Blanc if you’re looking for a step up in power, Chabot says.
“Even really sweet tomatoes have quite a bit of acidity, so you can tone it down a bit with a more powerful, rich white and let the beautiful fruit come out,” he says.
Tomatoes in cooked dishes are delicious with high-acid, fruit-forward reds like Sangiovese, Dolcetto and Barbera.
Chabot allows that his go-to tomato wine sounds like a cop-out, but a good Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige, with some almond or marzipan nuttiness underlying the steely acidity, is almost always a winner.
“I like to showcase the beautiful fruit of the tomato, and Pinot Grigio seems to nearly always hit the mark, whether you add cheese, butter, pepper or anything else,” he says.
Finally, Chabot says, even when you’re working with a fruit as perfect as a tomato, remember to always leave room for the wine.
“A dish that’s too balanced doesn’t need wine,” he says. “Instead, think of the wine as adding one last component to the dish to make it perfect. That’s when you have a showcase pairing.”
Green Tomato Tart with Arugula, Trefoil Cheese and Green Garlic Aioli
Recipe courtesy Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tennessee.
1 teaspoon rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 green tomatoes, sliced ¼-inch thick
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 tablespoon butter
2 sweet white onions, thinly sliced
4 egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups grapeseed oil
½ cup green garlic tops, blanched
4 ounces Blackberry Farm Trefoil Cheese
1 pint arugula
Preheat an oven to 350˚F.
In a mixing bowl, combine the herbs, olive oil and sliced tomatoes. Place the tomatoes on a sheet pan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast the tomatoes in the preheated oven until tender, about 15 minutes. Remove the tomatoes and increase the oven temperature to 400˚F.
Cut the puff pastry into 4 rounds with a ring mold that has roughly the same diameter as the tomatoes. Place pastry rounds on a sheet pan lined with a silicone baking mat. Place another mat on top of the puff pastry and cover with another sheet pan. Use something heavy, like a cast iron skillet, to weigh down the sheet pan. Bake the puff pastry for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a mediumsized sauté pan set over medium heat. Add the onions. Reduce the heat to low and cook the onions until caramelized.
Place the egg yolks, lemon juice and salt in a blender. Over low speed, add some of the grapeseed oil into the yolk mixture to form an emulsion. Add the green garlic tops and blend on high. Continue to add the grapeseed oil until the desired thickness is reached (if the aioli becomes too thick, add just enough cold water to thin). Reserve and refrigerate.
Lower the oven to 350˚F. Place one roasted tomato slice on each piece of puff pastry. Top with the caramelized onions, then 1 ounce of cheese. Warm the tarts in the oven until the cheese begins to melt, about 3–4 minutes. Remove and place the tarts on a plate. Toss the arugula in the aioli and place over each tart. Drizzle some of the aioli around the plate, if desired. Serves 4.
Unripe green tomatoes, along with the fresh cheese and lightly dressed greens, are highly acidic but balanced by the buttery tart crust. Chabot recommends a “serious” Vinho Verde like the Dócil from Niepoort. It’s on the weighty side, yet prickly, with a fruity core that tones down the acidity of the tomatoes.
Chili-Rubbed Lamb Loin with Field Peas and Roasted Tomatoes
Recipe courtesy Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tennessee.
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 ounces shallots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 celery rib
1 pint fresh field peas
2 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons chopped thyme, divided
1 teaspoon finely chopped chives
1 teaspoon Sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 plum tomatoes, quartered
2 lamb loins, approximately 10 ounces each
½ cup chili paste (recipe follows)
In a medium saucepot set over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil until shimmering. Add the shallots and garlic, and sweat until the shallots are translucent. Add the carrot, celery, field peas and chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Cook the peas until tender, then remove the carrot and celery. Finish by adding 1 teaspoon of the thyme, chives, Sherry vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat an oven to 350˚F. Combine the quartered tomatoes, 1 tablespoon olive oil and remaining thyme in a medium mixing bowl. Transfer the mixture to a wire rack placed over a cookie sheet. Season with salt and pepper and roast the tomatoes for 30 minutes. Remove the tomatoes from the rack and combine with the field peas.
Season the lamb loins with salt and pepper. In a sauté pan set over medium-high heat, heat the remaining oil until shimmering. Sear the lamb on all sides until it’s golden brown. Remove from the pan and brush with the chili paste. Transfer the lamb to a wire rack placed over a cookie sheet and roast until an instant read thermometer registers 130˚F when inserted into the thickest part of the meat. Brush the lamb again with chili paste and let the meat rest for 5 minutes before carving.
Divide the field peas and tomatoes among 4 plates, then place the lamb on top or alongside. Pass around the remaining chili paste as a condiment. Serves 4.
For the chili paste:
6 dried chiles de arbol
6 serrano peppers, stemmed and seeded
6 cloves garlic
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
Place the chiles de arbol in a small bowl, cover with hot tap water, and let sit for about 30 minutes, until pliable and leathery. Drain. Remove and discard the stems and seeds, and place the chilies in a small saucepan along with the serranos, garlic and half of the oil. Bring the mixture just to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and let cook for about 20 minutes, until the garlic is soft. Transfer the chili mixture to a food processor, add the coriander, cumin and salt, and pulse until puréed. Drizzle in the remaining olive oil until incorporated. Yields about ½ cup.
This classic Blackberry Farm dish has a bit of a Tuscan or Provençal taste with an east Tennessee twist of legumes and tomatoes. Roger Sabon’s Les Olivets Châteauneuf-du-Pape amplifies the spice in the sweet pepper glaze and adds an additional black pepper element that perfectly highlights the lamb, field peas and the meatiness of the tomatoes. Chabot also likes this dish with an off-dry Riesling, which highlights the fruity tomatoes, but is powerful enough to be paired with meat.
Galette of White Peaches and Tomatoes
From The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table: Recipes, Portraits, and History of the World’s Most Beautiful Fruit by Amy Goldman (Bloomsbury, 2008).
For the crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons cold butter, cut into
4 tablespoons ice water
For the filling:
4 medium white or yellow peaches, peeled
6 small white peach (or light yellow) tomatoes
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons plus 4 1⁄2 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 tablespoons melted butter
To make the crust, place the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add 4 tablespoons of butter and pulse until the pieces are the size of pennies. Repeat with the remaining butter. Add the ice water all at once and pulse once or twice just to incorporate.
Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and press it together gently with your hands. Shape the dough into a flat, round disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 days.
Roll the dough into a ⅛-inch-thick circle. Transfer the dough onto a silicone-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate while preparing the filling.
To fill the galette, preheat an oven to 400˚F.
Using a serrated knife, cut the peaches and tomatoes into ¼-inch slices. Mix the flour and 2 teaspoons of sugar together and scatter on the dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Lay the peach and tomato slices in concentric circles around the dough, leaving a 1-inch border. For every three slices of peaches, set down one tomato slice. Sprinkle with 4 tablespoons of sugar.
Fold the pastry border over the fruit and form a scalloped edge. Brush with the melted butter and sprinkle with the remaining ½ tablespoon of sugar.
Bake until the crust is golden and the fruit is tender, about 35 minutes. Slide the galette onto a rack to cool. Serve with vanilla ice cream. Serves 8.
White peach tomatoes are sweet and mellow, but add good acidity to this buttery dish. A sweet Gewürztraminer from Alsace, like Domaine Weinbach’s Réserve Personnelle, mimics the flavor of the peaches in its sweet-and-spicy floral notes, and balances nicely with the fruit, Chabot says.
7 Tomatoes For Your Bucket List
Amy Goldman grew and tested more than 1,000 heirloom varieties at her Hudson Valley farm, choosing 200 to feature in her book. Here are seven of her favorites. You can find many of these at farmers’ markets, or get them in seed form via the Seed Savers Exchange.
With wine-red skin, a firm, juicy texture and a fruity, well-balanced flavor, these dark cherry tomatoes are delicious in salads and in cherry tomato focaccia.
Smaller and sweeter than green grape tomatoes, these are cherry tomatoes with olive-yellow skin and spring green flesh. Their incredible sweet, tart flavor is perfect for eating fresh.
A round, ribbed tomato with blood-red skin and flesh, this is a traditional Italian ribbed tomato that’s firm, tart, meaty and juicy. Too tart to eat fresh, these are incredible sautéed into a simple tomato sauce with garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and basil.
Tangerine-colored, round and small, these tomatoes are a perfect blend of sweet, tart and juicy. They’re excellent in almost any preparation, whether broiled, roasted, eaten fresh on a sandwich or sliced on pizza.
A large beefsteak tomato with orange-yellow skin and flesh, spread throughout with pink, these garner top flavor reviews. Juicy, soft and meaty, they are best eaten fresh or juiced.
Fig-shaped, large and blood red inside and out, this unusually shaped tomato is sweet and luscious. Firm, meaty and juicy with beautiful veins, it makes a thick, rich, creamy tomato sauce.
Orange Russian 117
This beautifully shaped oxheart tomato has a yolk-yellow skin with prominent cheeks of pink and banana-colored flesh. Honeysweet and richly balanced in taste, they have a soft, meaty texture perfect for eating out of hand, like a peach.
Tomato Bread Pudding
From The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table: Recipes, Portraits, and History of the World's Most Beautiful Fruit by Amy Goldman (Bloomsbury, 2008).
1 pound brioche or hearty white bread, cut into ½-inch cubes
¼ cup olive oil
2 cups finely diced onions
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
2 pounds tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme
½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ cup grated Gruyère
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat an oven to 350˚F.
Spread the bread cubes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in the oven, turning as needed, until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Heat the oil in a sauté pan. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic. Combine the mixture with the tomatoes and herbs in a large mixing bowl, and toss in the Gruyère. Butter eight 8-ounce ramekins and evenly divide the mixture among them.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the milk, cream and salt, and stir lightly. Pour over the bread mixture, dividing evenly among the ramekins. Let rest, stirring occasionally, until the egg mixture has been absorbed. Top with the Parmesan.
Place the ramekins in a baking dish, and fill the dish halfway up with boiling water to create a hot water bath. Bake for 25 minutes, then broil until the top of the bread pudding is crisp and browned. Serves 8.
A rich, complete-in-itself dish like this creamy, fruity, buttery, acidic bread pudding needs a wine that’s equally complete. Chabot recommends Gravner’s Anfora Ribolla Gialla, an Italian “orange” white wine that acts a little like a red wine because of its extended skin contact. Its hint of tannin will balance the cream and butter, and its acidity will stand up to the tomato.