Sommelier Emily Johnston Pairs Tomatoes with Wine

Photo by Colin Dewll

Located in the burgeoning “Funk Zone” area of Santa Barbara, Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant is part wine shop, part tasting room, and part indoor/outdoor restaurant. In that setting, Advanced Sommelier Emily Johnston pairs wines from top European labels with local discoveries; along with Chef Weston Richards’s seasonal cuisine and the romantic setting, the whole experience is akin to stumbling into an authentic mom-and-pop restaurant in the south of France.

We wanted some of that romance for ourselves, so we asked Johnston to share her favorite matches for cooked tomato dishes.

The Sangiovese:

“Sangiovese is the first place I head when pairing wine with tomato sauces, stewed tomato dishes, or cooked tomatoes. The bright acidity and structured body of Sangiovese works in parallel with the acidity and meaty texture of cooked tomatoes. Plus, the herbal, savory character of a Sangiovese harmonizes [with] the sweetness of the tomato.”

The Chianti:

“Chef Richards makes a tomato and charred pepper shakshuka with baked eggs, onion, feta cheese, and spices. For a classic pairing, I would choose the Selvapiana Chianti Rufina 2014. Just outside of the Chianti Classico sub-region, Rufina makes elegant-styled Chianti that is particularly fresh and savory.”

The California Connection:

“For a California connection, we carry Sandlands Carignan 2014 that would also offer an interesting pairing to the shakshuka. While still bright in acidity, this wine also brings a spice character to the mix that complements the onion and spices in the dish.”

The Nerello:

“Finally, back to Italy, Calabretta’s Etna Rosso made from Nerello Mascalese offers not only the acidity and spice of the Sangiovese and Carignan, but also adds a rich earth character and a smoky minerality.”