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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  • Snooth User: Rodolphe Boulanger
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    6347 1,872

    Kirstin - Thanks for calling attention to Barbera - one of world's versatile reds that too often goes unnoticed.

    As for tomato wines, I am going to be conventional. I love a good traditional-style Chianti (i.e. made without Cabernet or Merlot as opposed to some plonk in a fiasco) whose Sangiovese core complements cooked tomatoes and sauces.

    Jul 22, 2008 at 5:00 AM

  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,575

    I only ever tried pizza in San Francisco once - it was a take out joint and i wasnt impressed, but I've been told that whilst the area might not be Brooklyn with its history of pizza, there are still better offerings than my greasy take out choices.

    As for pairing tomatoes with wine - i agree, you need high acidity (and maybe a little dusty earthiness). I dont want to copy either of you, but I'm struggling to come up with something original… Reisling gets nice and acidic, as does Sauv Blanc, but I'd much rather have a red with my pizza…

    Jul 22, 2008 at 7:11 AM

  • Snooth User: Daniel Petroski
    Hand of Snooth
    30091 715

    Ahh, Kirstin, my favorites - wines from Piemonte and tomato based foods. Excellent post, ditto Rboulanger's comment. I, too, dig a Chianti with my pasta, pizza, et al. But love to pair some less acidic whites with summer heirlooms. Thanks and keep the pairings coming….

    Jul 22, 2008 at 11:02 AM

  • Snooth User: Mark Angelillo
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    2 5,324

    I'm now on the bandwagon with “freg”. Is there a Facebook group promoting its use?

    Jul 25, 2008 at 10:38 AM

  • Snooth User: Kirstin
    46671 68

    Rboulagner & Dan- I'm also a fan of Chianti and tomatoes. Not a coincidence that tomatoes are used so much in Tuscan cuisine! I love people that live for their pairings.

    Phillip- I've also had an awesome pizza experience with Riesling- an off-dry- and it was amazing. Opposite idea of Barbara, since the Riesling was sweet-ish, but it worked amazingly well still.
    And, yes, you'll have to explore pizza opportunities over here. I've had bad pizza around New York just as you did in SF, but I went back out there and did what I needed to do. I tested several places until blissful. You now have a mission. Let me know if you need guidance.

    Sep 17, 2009 at 4:20 PM

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