Sommelier and wine director Samantha Johnston oversees the wine programs for three operations: the Toscana Group’s flagship Tuscan trattoria in Brentwood; Toscana, along with the adjacent Bar Toscana; and the newer Nerano in Beverly Hills. And she loves tomatoes.
“As spring approaches, and farmer’s markets are starting to overflow with fresh tomatoes—heirloom varietals, sweet cherry and grape tomatoes, and classic Romas—many of us search for new recipes, or perhaps just new wines, to bring new light to menu staples,” she says. “Tomatoes offer a variety of wine pairings depending on their preparation—fresh, grilled, slow-cooked in stews or sauces give many possibilities as their flavors change and become more complex.”
Tomatoes are naturally quite high in acidity . . . to balance that, you want to look for high-acid wines.
Tomatoes are naturally quite high in acidity, she notes, and to balance that, “you want to look for high-acid wines.” Some of her favorite pairings for the following dishes highlight the spectrum of flavor found in tomatoes, and feature some pretty classic regional Italian wines.
Pairing with Caprese salad that includes Apulian burrata, tomato confit, arugula-pesto:
“With fresh tomatoes, I love Old World Sauvignon Blanc. The hints of green notes (green herbs, fresh peppers, grass) play really well against fresh tomatoes—plus, Old World Sauvignon Blancs have killer-bright acidity, keeping the dish fresh and light. Pair this with Markus Gump Praesulis, Südtirol Sauvignon Blanc, Italy, 2015.”
Pairing with Parmigiana di melanzane (baked Italian eggplant) with fior di latte, San Marzano tomatoes, and basil:
“With this dish, or other light, vegetable-based pastas and stews such as ratatouille, I love Chianti Classico or Rosé. The vegetables, especially eggplant, have an inherent earthy quality, which is beautiful with the dusty finish I love in Chianti Classico. Well-made Chianti—based on the Sangiovese grape—have vibrant acidity, juicy red fruits, touches of herbs, and nice minerality on the finish. I also love Rosé with these dishes if I’m looking for a bit of a lighter pairing. Provence Rosés have stunning herbaceous and floral qualities, reminiscent of Mediterranean herbs and mouthwatering acid, keeping your palate refreshed. I like Frescobaldi Nipozzano, Vecchie Viti, Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy, 2013, and Domaine de L’Abbaye, Clos Beylesse, Rosé, Côtes de Provence, France, 2016.”
Pairing with garganelli al ragu (black Angus beef ragu, Bolognese-style) and Parmigiano mantecato:
“Meat-driven dishes with slow-cooked tomatoes offer a depth of flavor with almost balsamic notes. I think the wines of southern Italy—rustic with richer body, spice notes, tobacco, and balsamic, yet still with that cleansing acidity—can make the most pleasing pairings. Aglianico, with its dark-fruit notes and elegant structure, is great with meaty dishes and a welcomed alternative to Cabernet or Bordeaux-style blends. A good wine for this is I Favati, Aglianico, Taurasi, Campagnia, Italy, 2008.”