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Jul 11, 2006
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Wine With . . . Gazpacho

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas


Few things are more revitalizing on a hot summer day than chilled soup.  For the definitive take on summer soup, we always look to Spain.  The world has borrowed many things from Spain-naval armadas, Flamenco, tapas-but the most widely embraced icon of Spanish culture may well be gazpacho. 


The popularity of this cold, refreshing Andalusian soup is hardly surprising given that it uses inexpensive ingredients, is simple and quick to prepare, is low in calories, and is utterly delicious.  Gazpacho was popular even in pre-Roman times, when shepherds were sustained by the original version made from stale bread, garlic, vinegar, oil and water.  Farmers later began adding vegetables.  At our house, we frequently take liberties with classic gazpacho andaluz, streamlining it down to a basic purée of fresh summer veggies: salad in a soup bowl.  We start by pouring a couple of cups of tomato juice into the blender or food processor, adding chopped onion, garlic, bell pepper, cucumber and tomato, plus a little diced jalapeño or hint of cayenne.  We pulse it until the ingredients are finely minced rather than completely liquefied, then blend in olive oil, a whisper of vinegar, and salt and pepper.  When there's enough time, we chill the gazpacho for at least a couple of hours, and then float a couple of toasted, garlic-rubbed baguette slices on top of each serving.  The whole process is amazingly simple-at least until it comes to finding the right wine to serve with it. 


In Spain, glasses of chilled fino sherry hit the spot (in Spain everything tastes better with sherry), but on a recent evening here in Baltimore, when we opened a dozen or so bottles to sample with our gazpacho, we were frankly surprised by the number of wines that lost their appeal when partnered with the cold soup.  Sparkling wine was easy-indeed, we always find fizz a good match for most soups, partly because of the textural contrast.  A charming Chablis, on the other hand, bombed, its delicacy swamped by the concentration of raw vegetable flavors.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, a lovely Vacqueras, whose earthiness we'd hoped would echo the earthy veggies, seemed fine until its tannins kicked in and seemed to be magnified tenfold by the soup's raw ingredients.  The herbal flavors of Sauvignon Blanc were dulled by the soup and, as is often the case, overt oakiness in an otherwise tasty Australian Chardonnay clashed with the dish.  So what did that leave us with besides the sparklers?  A classic Vouvray proved a delightful surprise, its inherent hint of sweetness a congenial contrast to the soup's acidic tomato base, and its crisp finish a mouthwatering invitation to the next spoonful of soup.  The other wines that best suited the soup were likewise fruity but never flamboyant (a Gewurztraminer, for example, was too overbearing).  Each was medium bodied and had a good, clean finish.


As a post-script: after we cleared away the soup bowls we opened a carton of deli chicken salad.  Since all those wines were already lined up on the table we had fun pairing them with the chicken salad.  Remember the oaky Chardonnay that was terrible with the gazpacho?  It was terrific with the chicken salad! 




Approx. Price



Masi, IGT Delle Venezia (Italy) 'Masianco' 2005

(Imported by Remy Cointreau USA)







This blend of Pinot Grigio (75%) and Verduzzo (25%) overflows with summer fruit flavors, yet has just enough acidity to stay in balance.  It's slightly sweet personality helped the gazpacho shine.




Pierre Larousse, (France) Blanc de Blancs Brut NV

(Imported by Country Vintner and others)






This non-vintage French bubbly includes Pinot Blanc from Alsace and Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley.  Fruity and frothy, it helped bring out the fresh, sweet flavors in the soup.




Marqués de Cáceres, Rioja (Spain) Dry Rosé 2005

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)







Tasting of fresh strawberries with a hint of spice in the finish, this dry rosé is in no sense austere.  In fact, it exhibits a vibrant, almost vivacious character, its charm being fruit-forward zest, not complexity or subtlety.  That's what complemented the soup so well.




Domaine Pichot, Vouvray (France) Domaine le Peu de la Moriette 2004 (Imported by Vineyard Brands)





The best wines with this dish turned out (somewhat to our surprise) to display at least a hint of sweetness.  This Vouvray was the sweetest we tried, and one of the best.  Well-balanced and full of peach and other summer fruit flavor, it seemed like a liquid (fruit) salad.




Roederer Estate, Anderson Valley (California) Brut Rosé NV





Drier than most of the other winning wines, this delicious California sparkler is still filled with ripe red berry flavors and aromas.  It tastes fresh, and freshness turned out to be a key factor when choosing a wine to pair with gazpacho-a dish that, after all, is itself filled with fresh, seasonal flavor.