You can debate, if you wish, whether tomatoes are fruits or vegetables, but this academic brouhaha pales in comparison to the overwhelming uses for this wonderful and fascinating taste treat.
Those last two words might not apply to every tomato, and usually does not when they are grown in some far-flung land, where herbicides and pesticides are their best friends, and when they endure long truck trips to our market, where they can become bruised, manhandled, and finally too old to use for any culinary reason.
That’s a far cry, of course, from the home-grown beauties now coming into full flower in our gardens, and that can make such superb additions to our cooking.
We have four different varieties in our garden, and as they ripen each offers a slightly different taste, which sort of begs the question: Will any tomato do in our mushrooms stew, boeuf bourguignon, or sliced atop a juicy hamburger?
I love this time of year partly because of the wines that mark the changing of seasons. We drink precious little red wine during hot months, and as the weather cools, we look forward to some lighter reds in autumn followed by darker ones for colder weather.
Tomatoes come along at exactly the right time since they provide the base for some intriguing taste pairings.
Ripe tomatoes impart two contrasting elements: the sweetness and the tartness, which calls, in my mind, for lighter-weight young red wines that have the proper acidity to match with the juiciest of tomatoes.
Young chianti and California barbera both are ideal as tomato companions. For the former wine, buy something inexpensive, not ones to be aged. In most cases, complexity isn’t necessary when fresh tomatoes are at play.
Many California wineries produce a sangiovese (the grape of Chianti), but here the wine tends to be much softer, without the proper acidity to go with tomatoes, so often such wines actually clash with tomato-laced dishes.
Nor would I choose a typical cabernet sauvignon or merlot with such foods because marinara sauce doesn’t have enough protein or fat to compete with the tannins in the wines.
With very sweet tomatoes, a dinner involving Caprese salad (mozzarella cheese, basil, olive oil) can also work with an off-dry riesling, especially if fall is late and the days remain warm.
Another wine that works beautifully here would be a young, fresh, dry rosé.
The longer you cook any dish, in general, the more the liquid is reduced, calling for slightly heartier reds, so tomatoes, although they still impart sweetness and acidity, become part of a larger and more complex dish and thus the less the wine plays a part.
Wine of the Week: 2012 Enotria Barbera, Mendocino County ($19)—Blackberry and plum mingle to make a relatively rich entry and mid-palate, but the aftertaste delivers appropriate balance to pair nicely with any dish containing tomatoes. Greg Graziano always makes this wine with restraint and charm. Scott Harvey (Napa Valley), Eberle (Paso Robles), Jeff Runquist (Amador County), Sobon (Amador), and Montevina (Amador) are a few others who make excellent Barbera.