Piero Selvaggio Pairs Tomatoes and Wine

Photo by Judy Starkman

Claiming one of the largest wine cellars on the West Coast, Valentino restaurant in Santa Monica, California, has remained one of the most influential Italian eateries in America for the past four decades.

Owner Piero Selvaggio was recognized for his achievement in Wine Spectator magazine, and the establishment has been honored with the magazine’s venerable Grand Award for its wine list every year since 1981. One of the most coveted dining experiences in town is booking out the private wine room above the restaurant, where you and your closest friends can dine on a multi-course tasting menu—think fusilli with San Marzano tomatoes along with aged ricotta and cubes of zucchini with stuffed calamari in a tomato broth—surrounded by rows of rare vintages.

Selvaggio shares with the World Tomato Society his top tips for pairing wines with tomatoes, including a few unexpected sparkling varietals.

Pairing with all tomato-based dishes:

“When pairing with tomatoes, one needs to consider the acidity of the wines. First of all, the wine could be overpowered by the aromatics of certain ingredients, such as olive oil or citrus. I would think first of all about semi-aromatic wines, like a Soave or Pinot Bianco, for example, that show freshness, delicate fruit sensations, and intense perfumes and flavors. Then I’d consider those that enrich the taste and the intensity of the tomatoes. Also, it’s important to match acidity with acidity, which will enrich rather than take away flavor. Sparkling wines can match very well, especially Rosé. A pasta or pizza with fresh tomato sauce are ideal partners to a Rosé; for tomatoes with cheese and basil, a perfect companion is a light Sangiovese, a Malbec, or young Barbera.”

Pairing with cooked tomatoes:

“When a dish is made with cooked tomatoes, like chicken, eggplant, or meatballs, I tend to pair it with reds like a Pinot Noir or Sicilian Nerello (Mascalese). At Valentino, we like high-acid reds, not too aggressive but with a good finish and a cleansing aftertaste. In general, we choose wines like Grenache, Cabernet Franc, and Apulian Primitivo, yet we don’t shy away from Sauvignon Blanc or Gavi—wines that bring a distinct flavor and a lot of minerality, complementing the choice with a positive marriage of ingredients.”