Wine and summer veggies
One of the great joys of summer time for me is its bounty of fresh local produce. Whether you have your own garden or shop at a nearby farmer's market, the pallid tomatoes shipped in during less favored months can't compare with the bright, juicy red globes available for the picking in these parts from mid-July until first frost. And the same, of course, goes for all the other fresh vegetables and fruits of summertime.
Even though we're omnivores around here, sometimes the seasonal bounty inspires an all-vegetable meal. But a meatless dinner poses a challenge for wine lovers: What wines go with vegetarian fare?
After all, wine evolved as an accompaniment to food in Western cultures where it's usually assumed that the main course will feature meat, poultry or fish. Cabernet Sauvignon with beef or lamb, Chardonnay with lobster, Nebbiolo with duck ... well, you get the idea. We don't have many similar paradigms for wines to go with green beans or red potatoes.
But it certainly can be done, by applying some of the basic principles we use in matching any food and wine, such as "match likes with likes" and "match body and texture." Hearty meatless dishes involving beans or pasta and cheese, for example, may stand up to more full-bodied red wines. Light green-vegetable dishes fare well with crisp whites, with extra credit if the white wine brings an herbal or even vegetative quality to the party. Cheeses or a dairy component in the dish invite a fuller white. (Vegans, those who shun animal products like butter and cheese, may have a harder time finding a match for reds, but I would look at bean dishes and soy-based products in the tempeh and miso category for inspiration.)
Let's get practical: A few days ago we enjoyed bowls of hot spaghetti tossed with the simplest of accompaniments - butter and fine-chopped fresh sage - and a simple melange of chopped onions and garlic browned, then briefly braised with green peas and fresh broccoli florets. As reported in Monday's Wine Advisor, a delicious, rather rich Australian white, the Leeuwin Estate 2001 Margaret River "Siblings" Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon, made an excellent match. A rich Southern Italian white would have done well with the pasta and sage alone; the vegetable dish with its "green" flavors invites just about any Sauvignon Blanc.
Last night we ate our way into the swelling tide of garden tomatoes by fashioning a simple summer "gratin" of steamed broccoli and cauliflower over orecchiette pasta, topped with browned onions and garlic and a ration of chopped fresh tomatoes, tossed with a few capers, a dash of balsamic and a squirt of lemon, topped with bits of mild goat cheese and run under the broiler just long enough to brown the cheese. (Watch tomorrow's Wine Advisor FoodLetter for the details.)
Whether they're cooked or raw or, as in this case, just barely heated, tomatoes speak Italian in my cookbook, and just about any Italian red from Chianti southward will sing a tenor aria with tomatoes' natural balance of sweetness and acidity. I paired this dish with the wine featured in today's tasting, a modest Veneto red from the region around Verona. A first cousin to the regional Valpolicella, it's made from a combination of Valpolicella's Corvina grape and the regional Raboso Veronese.
Masi 2000 "Modello" Rosso delle Venezie ($8.99)
This wine is dark garnet with reddish-purple glints. Characteristic dried-cherry aromas over a background of caramel and brown-sugar scents shows its kinship with Valpolicella. Full, dry and tart, its flavors are consistent with the nose, dried cherries and lemony acidity. It's on the simple side, but appetizing fruit and cleansing tartness build its credibility as a food wine. Despite the conventional wisdom about serving red wines warm, a light chill from 45 minutes in the refrigerator does this one no harm on a hot summer evening (but don't serve it ice cold). U.S. importer: Remy Amerique Inc., NYC. (Aug. 4, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with beef, from burgers to prime rib, but this Northern Italian red's natural affinity with tomatoes gave fine service with a meatless summer "gratin" of fresh veggies topped with barely cooked tomatoes and goat cheese run under the broiler.
VALUE: Good food wine, appropriately priced under $10.
WHEN TO DRINK: Tannins and acidic balance will hold it for a year or two, but don't expect it to evolve significantly with age.
WEB LINK: You'll find the winery Website (in English) at
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Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2003