How to Pair Heirloom Tomatoes with Wine

“Teach a (wo)man to garden and the whole neighborhood gets tomatoes.” Anyone who has enjoyed the pleasure of homegrown tomatoes knows just how true this is. Yet our tastebuds often tell us that not all tomatoes are created equal, even those lovingly grown in backyards.

Master Culinary Gardener Tucker Taylor at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens in Sonoma County certainly knows his way around tomatoes. He carefully cultures over 150 varieties. They are not just any tomatoes, mind you, but rather character-filled heirloom tomatoes. Winemakers often taste their wines blind. As a Master Culinary Gardener, Farmer T. can probably blind identify heirloom tomatoes!

Tomatoes become heirloom varieties when they have been seeded (that is, when the fruit seeds are saved to be replanted the following spring) for over 50 years or have been long-associated with a specific farm or grower family. They are often thought of as pre-WWII varieties. Before WWII, tomatoes were grown and purchased locally. After, tomatoes were bred to hold up to shipping all over the Union.

Heirloom tomatoes’ unique flavors and sweet-tart balances can be a tricky with wine. Luckily, Kendall-Jackson’s in-house sommelier Larry O’Brien offers these tried-and-true pairing principles to help:

  • Oak: be cautious of oak-influenced wines. Wines are often vinified or aged in oak to amp up complexity, but the toasty, vanilla-ed flavors new oak adds generally don’t work well with tomatoes unless they are cooked.
  • Acidity: both tomatoes and wines have acidic tang. Rather than building on each other, their acidities soften each other, making both the tomato and wine seem softer and fruitier. As such, be sure to pair dry wines with tarter tomatoes and fruitier wines with sweeter tomatoes. Yellow and orange tomatoes tend to be milder while red tomatoes tend to be higher in acidity.
  • Sweetness: again, aim for like with like. Sweet tomatoes need a rounder, fruitier wine.
  • Salt: though not found in wine, salt is an important element in every dish. It intensifies flavors and diminishes tartness, especially in crisp, dry wines. Like most things in life, a little is all you need.
  • Cooking: red wines shine with cooked tomatoes, which are concentrated and caramelized by heat. White wines tend to work best with fresh tomatoes.

Not only did Larry offer tips to keep top-of-mind for your pairings, he also offered specific duos that highlight some of Farmer T’s favorite varietals and take even more of the guess work out of your wine and heirloom tomato combinations.

  • Hawaiian Pineapple Tomato and Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Sauvignon Blanc
    • This is a large heirloom with a rich, meaty texture.
    • The Vintner’s Reserve Sauvignon Blanc offers a blend of citrus and stone fruit flavors with a softer, roundish mouthfeel. (It isn’t a zippy, pungent Sauvignon Blanc like many of its New Zealand cousins.)
    • The wine compliments the rich texture of the wine blends nicely with the tomato’s sweetness.

Hawaiian Pineapple Tomato and Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Sauvignon Blanc
  • Lemony (Limmony) Tomato and Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Riesling
    • This is a sassy, tart tomato, as its name suggests.
    • This Riesling tastes of tangerines, nectarines and limes. This is a drier Riesling (Rieslings are not necessarily sweet!) with just a hint of sweetness.
    • This rather dry Riesling strikes a perfect balance between sweet and sour, just like the tomato. A bit of a dressing with high quality vinegar and salt will nicley tame the wine’s brisk tang.

Lemony (Limmony) Tomato and Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Riesling
  • Black Krim Tomato and Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Pinot Noir
    • Black Krim is a rich, meaty and slightly smoky heirloom.
    • This Pinot Noir is plump and soft with gently chewy tannins.
    • This duo works well with composed dishes, like a BLT. The salt, fat and protein add to the flavors and textures of the Black Krim and nicely accent the wine’s whisper of oak flavor.

Black Krim Tomato and Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Pinot Noir

Food and wine pairings, especially tricky ones, can become such a center of focus that we can lose sight of one of the main reasons we take the time and make the effort to bring beautiful elements together on a table. The memories we create with friends around our tables are heirlooms of a different – and a most important – nature.

So, enough with the planning! Shop, cook, sit and toast with your near and dear ones or scoop up tickets for the Kendall-Jackson 20th Annual Heirloom Tomato Festival on September 24th, 2016 or the special Farm-to-Table dinner on September 23rd, 2016. The festival is working on become a sort of heirloom, too, celebrating 20 years of feasting with family and friends on these unique tomatoes. Until the next post, “Santé!”