Tomato season is here, and we couldn’t be happier. Whether sliced into Caprese salad, pureed into a summer pasta dish, grilled when green or simply salted and popped into the mouth, tomatoes are one of the best features of summer. The past years have seen the widespread appearance of “heirloom” varieties with names like Azoychka, Black Pear, Limmony, Great White and Dr. Wyche’s Yellow that vary widely in color, size and flavors, adding splendid versatility to this true fruit of the vine.
All tomatoes, this rich diversity of varieties notwithstanding, have an underlying acidity. This feature, along with their sweetness, must be taken into account when selecting a wine to pair with a dish that features fresh summer tomatoes. Wines with noticeable tannins, oakiness and tons of spice are not really appropriate to the task. The ideal match, rather, is a balancing act that complements the flavors and yet is able to stand up next to the tomato’s inherent acidity.
For something like a Caprese salad—tomatoes, basil, mozzarella seasoned with salad and the best olive oil you can find—consider a dry Italian white wine made from one of the country’s indigenous varietals like Verdicchio, Falanghina or the more widely available Pinot Grigio. A dry, bright rosé would also work, as would a lighter style of Sauvignon Blanc.
The tomato’s acidity is tempered by cooking. So cooking summer tomatoes also expands the wine pairing options. Consider lighter reds with good fruit and acidity, like Sangiovese and Barbera. If you seek simple preparation and fresh flavors, perhaps served simply sliced and salted, consider a sparkling rosé or a dry Riesling.
Or consider this solid, kosher all-rounder: the Israeli Dalton Pinot Gris 2014 ($20), whose zippy acidity makes it ideal to match with summer’s bounty of tomatoes. Medium bodied with aromas of hay, peaches and grapefruit and flavors of green apple, stone fruits and loads of citrus, it has a lengthy finish. Open a bottle after you slice up some Romas, Caspian Pinks and Cherokee Purples.
Spirits-wise, all this tomato on the brain calls to mind, what else, a classic Bloody Mary. A seemingly simple concoction of iced tomato juice, vodka, Worcestershire, and usually also lemon juice and then something spicy like horseradish or Tabasco, a well made Bloody Mary is refreshingly tangy, rich and earthy. While a badly made Bloody Mary is, well… deeply inadequate.
Try to get too fancy with additional vegetables, and you wind up with gazpacho—not a terrible outcome, perhaps, but not a Bloody Mary. Too much Tabasco or horseradish, throws it out of whack, resulting in an unpleasant fiery, spiciness. Too much tomato juice or too much ice, and you wind up with a thin, limp and watery mess. Too much Worcestershire or lemon juice will likewise ruin it.
The key is to achieve balance with whatever ingredients you opt for. Here is our go-to recipe:
Into a mixing glass combine 2 ounces of vodka, 4 ounces of tomato juice (purée in a blender and then strain over a cheesecloth-lined sieve; or, if you must, use quality canned juice), ½ an ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice, 3 dashes of Tabasco and 2 dashes of Worcestershire, and a pinch of both salt and freshly ground pepper (careful with the salt if using canned juice). Add ice and stir to mix. Strain into an iced goblet or highball glass. Oh, and if you like, garnish with a stick of celery. For a “Virgin Mary,” leave out the vodka. It’ll taste the same, but loses its “curative” powers. L’Chaim!