FOOD: Heirloom Tomatoes Beat the Heat

By Christianna Sargent
August 2012
Special to the Falls Church Times

Step into a world of ripening heirloom tomatoes and enter a realm of bourgeoning discovery and endless flavor possibilities. The science population has been exclaiming the importance of food diversity and warning of the consequences of genetic erosion for years now.  With this in mind, consider for a moment the tasty, colorful array of heirloom tomatoes found at the farmer’s market that are replaced by bins in the supermarket full of  tasteless tomatoes almost identical in size, shape and color. If you take the time to just consider the benefits of selecting heirloom tomatoes, I will provide you with a few wine pairing tips that will maximize your efforts and return you to that tantalizing memory of how tomatoes used to taste. Your efforts will be rewarded three-fold when you experience the first flavor explosion in your mouth followed by a refreshing wine chaser in this sweltering heat.

Over 10,000 varieties of tomatoes exist today, but commercial growers have chosen to grow just a couple of them in order to focus on physical traits that increase profitability; namely consistency, productivity and hardiness. Consistency lends to every tomato being the same size and shape with no physical blemishes, creases or any variant color spots. Also, commercial tomatoes need to yield large harvests and be able to endure mechanical picking, long distance traveling and exposure to pesticides. Since most American supermarket shoppers deem physical attributes more preferential to taste, commercialized versions of tomatoes barely resemble their heirloom counterparts. Heirloom tomatoes are not used in large-scale agriculture, but rather are popular among small-scale farmers and home gardeners.

In the wine world, tomatoes can be one of the most difficult foods to pair with wine due to their acidity. Introducing the wrong wine to a tomato-based dish usually ends in tragic, mouth-puckering, bitter reflections. Furthermore, commercialized tomatoes present even more challenges to the food-wine equilibrium because they are bland in flavor and acid-centric. When you introduce heirloom tomatoes to the wine pairing, however, other flavor components enter the equation, such as sweet tendency, succulence, tanginess, earthy undertones, citrus components, and smoky factors. Imagine the mouth-watering, warm-from-the-sun, old-time taste you remember from your youth (or may have never experienced). So, next time chose those beautiful tomatoes of all shapes and colors and try out any of these three recommendations listed below to test your heirloom selections:

  • Classic Italian dishes made with tomato-based sauce and pasta like spaghetti, Bolognese, lasagna, manicotti, baked ziti, chicken parmesan. Just sub in a homemade marinara sauce made from heirloom tomatoes and go for Italian red wines, such as classic Chianti, Barbera, Dolcetto, Barolo, Brunello and the off-shore island reds like Cannonau and Nero d’Avola. My recommendation is a renowned Chianti – Fattoria di Lucignano Chianti Colli Fiorentini, average price $13.99 found in local, specialty wine shops like Arrowines.
  • Gazpacho made with garlic, red onion, vinegar and an assortment of other ingredients pairs best with sherry (Fino or Manzanilla) and lightly colored rosés from Spain, Provence and California. Sherry boasts the least amount of acidity of any wine and its savory, salty flavors mesh well with vibrant tomato flavors. In order to find the best sherry selections in the DC metropolitan area, venture to Jaleo restaurant in Crystal City and take a gander at their retail wine shop. Ask for Osborne Manzanilla from Andalucia Spain, average price $13.99.
  • Insalata Caprese salad is a simple dish of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil that can be dressed up with a fine-quality olive oil, balsamic vinegar and white wine vinegar. With the extreme aromatic characteristics of this recipe and sweet succulence of the tomatoes, try an Italian white wine such as Verdicchio. Red, White & Bleu in Falls Church carries an elegant version, Stefan Antonucci Verdicchio Classico Riserva from the Marche region of Italy for approximately $18.99.

This time of year, tomatoes offer a simplistic answer to quick, easy and healthy dishes that do not weigh you down in heavy, meaty dinner affairs. Served at cooler temperatures, red and white wines can match beautifully with your tomato recipes and leave you with a satiated appetite that does not weigh you down in hot, humid weather.


August 10, 2012 


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