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Sep 3, 2008
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Wine With Pasta with Salsa Cruda

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas       

One of the best things about late summer is the bounty of fresh tomatoes.  Whether home-grown, left on the doorstep by overenthusiastic gardening friends, or purchased at the local farmers' market, few things shout 'SUMMER BLISS!!' as deliciously as those fresh, juicy, flavorful tomatoes.  If you're like us, for the past several weeks you've been enjoying plenty of gazpacho and all manner of tomato salads.  One of our favorite ways to savor tomatoes is to incorporate them in all their raw beauty into pasta. Taking our cue from the Italians (cruda: 'raw') we generally keep things simple.  Although we've been known to add another cheese such as feta or brie in addition to the parmesan, and to throw in a few anchovies and/ or olives, it's hard to beat the delectable purity of having tomatoes alone be the star of the show. 

We don't use a recipe for this dish.  We simply chop up tomatoes (allowing 1, 2 or 3 per person depending on the size of the tomatoes), and place them in a large bowl along with 1, 2 or 3 minced cloves of garlic, a sprinkling of red pepper flakes, and a good fistful of shredded fresh basil leaves.  We pour in enough olive oil to just about cover the tomatoes and let it stand for at least 2 hours so that the juices seep out. (We often peel the tomatoes first, dropping them into boiling water for a second, then running them immediately under cold water; the skins then slip right off, leaving the silky tomato flesh to melt into the fragrant, oily mixture). With a good amount of grated fresh parmesan at the ready, we cook the pasta according to package directions-we like fettuccine, but many people prefer other varieties such as orecchiette-drain it, then toss it with the tomatoes and cheese, passing more cheese at the table.  One note of caution: don't try this with anything but absolutely fresh, ripe, summer tomatoes, preferably ones that are only minutes-or at the most, a couple of days-away from the vines on which they grew.

Since this is a recipe best enjoyed with friends, we invited our buddies Rick and Rebecca to join us for dinner, and to help us select the best wines to go with the dish.  From the diverse assortment of styles lined up on the table, three of the four of us thought that, overall, white wines best suited the pasta, and all three, in fact, selected an Arneis as their number one choice.  Surprisingly, all four of us picked the Barbera as top red wine, with the Burgundy a close second.  Were it not for the tomatoes, every wine on the table would probably have received a thumbs up (or is that bottoms up?), but the juxtaposed  combination of acidity and ripe-tomato fruitiness played tricks with some of the wines, unbalancing the acid in the leaner whites, and messing up the structure of robust and/or tannic reds.  On the whole, however, this is an easygoing, fairly wine-friendly dish, sure to find favor with oenophiles seeking informal summer dining pleasure. So keep the wines simple rather than overly complex.  If you prefer whites, go for fruit and body rather than austerity.  If you insist on reds, avoid a surfeit of oak and tannin.  And do chill those reds down a bit (30 minutes in the fridge should do it).



Approx. Price



Ceretto, Langhe (Piedmont, Italy) Arneis 'Blange' 2006

(Imported by Moet Hennessy USA)




The nutty flavors in this fleshy white proved very appealing. They offered a counterpoint to the fresh tomato and herb flavors in the pasta, giving the pairing added depth.  And unlike some lighter whites, the wine had weight, so in no sense seemed overwhelmed.



Joseph Drouhin, Chorey-Les-Beaune (Burgundy) 2006

Imported by Dreyfus-Ashby & Co.)






A soft, smooth red Burgundy, with mushroom-like secondary notes, this wine offered just the right weight and texture to work well with this fresh pasta dish.  Much as with the Arneis, those non-fruit flavors enhanced the pairing.



Swanson Vineyards, Napa Valley (California) Pinot Grigio 2007






Richer and fuller in body than most Pinot Grigios from northern Italy, this sunny Californian nonetheless offers herbal notes in addition to citrus fruit flavors.  Not surprisingly, those herbal elements echoed flavors in the pasta, making for a complimentary match.



Tenimenti Ca'Bianca, Barbera d'Asti (Piedmont, Italy) 2005

(Imported by Frederick Wildman)





Very supple, with extremely soft tannins, this red seemed especially appropriate with the tomatoes in the dish, its plum and other red fruit flavors echoing their sweetness.  Genuinely light-bodied, it never seemed pushy or aggressive. 



Yangarra, McLaren Vale (Australia) Grenache/ Shiraz Rosé 'Single Vineyard' 2007

(Imported by Soverign Wine Imports)







Fresh and juicy, with lots of bright berry fruit flavor, this rosé also hints at dried herbs and lavender (much like Provencal rosés).  Those suggestions made it very appealing with this dish, particularly since we were trying it on a steamy summer night.