Barbera and Tomato


As old and fabled of a pairing as bacon and eggs or Adam and Eve, Barbera and tomatoes hardly need an introduction.

But I feel like cooing, so here goes.
While tomatoes aren't as extensively utilized in Piedmont cooking, the region where Barbera thrives, as they are in say in Bologna, Sicily, or Tuscany, you can be sure that they are often on the table together. This is when the magic happens.

Now, just like with other grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, there are many ways to make the wine called Barbera. Some expressions are oakier, richer, and riper. In general, these are styles of Barbera that are good with food, but in my opinion are best generally utilized as as a cocktail wines.

The traditional style of Barbera, on the other hand, is fermented, lower-oak goodness that puckers lips and leaves one searching the room for something to cut the high acidity, like a slice of butter. This is the type of Barbera that we're looking for. These are the Barberas that live for tomatoes.

Barbera is a high acidity Piedmontese grape with a juicy cherry, strawberry, and often tar-like touch. A tomato is a fruit-vegetable (hereafter referred to as a freg) with sweet overtones and a high acidity bite. This pairing is a classic case of matching like to like. Although it might sound somewhat asinine to pair a freg known for its acidity with a wine also known for the same (maybe it sounds as silly as the first time you use brown and white sugar in a cookie recipe, for example), it works amazingly well.

Case in point:
Zachary's deep-dish spinach and mushroom pizza with Borgogno Barbera D'Alba.

Zachary's deep-dish is known around the SF Bay Area and exists as a topic of conversation in Chicago for its crispy, buttery crust, that's jam-packed with oozing layers of mozzarella and massive amounts of tomatoes. It's so tomatolicious, in fact, that some pizza purists insist that it is more casserole than a true pizza. Whatever. It's the best and only thing really worth ordering on their menu that inspires sure-bet bliss. And its better heated in the oven the next day.

My point is, anyhow, that it is the tomatoes that makes this pizza such a perfect match for the grape.

If a tomato ever seemed sweet to you, just wait until you try it with Barbera. This is when our freg friend transforms to tomato candy. The high acidity in the gape emphasizes all hints of sugar in the freg, but it doesn't make the tomato too sweet so that the wine tastes metallic or sour. And the tomato returns the favor for the wine, twelve-fold. It transforms this tart little grape into a complete table pleasure.

But that's just my opinion. Try it with an overlaoaded deep-dish near you.

Do you have any favorite tomato wines?

Kirstin Jackson Ellis works as a wine bar manager and wine and food consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area and writes about wine and food pairing at Vin de La Table, her luxurious and lighthearted blog.

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