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For Cooking--a white for San Marzanos?

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I'm looking for a wine to include in a simple sauce of slow roasted SMs, with a delicate EVOO, to accompany spinach tortelloni. I can choose the seasonings according to the wine, which I'd like to feature.

I've done red wines, including Cabs, Merlots, Bordeaux, Burgundies, Riojas, Chiantis, Moltepulcianos, Bardolinos, you name it, to death in my tomato sauces. In the words of the great Katharine Hepburn, "I'm bo-ahed, bo-ahed, bo-ahed", and I think it's time to break out.

The only thing I'd prefer to skip this time would be a Pinot Grigio, since I've done that, too.

I'd really like to try something from abroad. If I were going to be totally honest, I'd have to say that French wines are still what make my heart beat most rapidly, but I know there are plenty of beautiful choices from around the world, so I'd love to hear any of your suggestions.

If possible, I'd like to spend up to $12, give or take.

Thanks to all.

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  1. Have you ever tried an Arneis? It's a white wine from Piedmont, Italy, and, in my mind, one of the top wines in the world to pair with tomatoes. It's lively, satisfying, a bit rounder than most Italian whites.The best come from the Roero district, so look for that on the label. My favorite is probably the Deltetto but Bruno Giacosa makes a good one also. I've been a bit disappointed in the Arneis made in the US, though, so stick with those from Italy.

    If the spinach were more than a minor flavor note (just the stuffing in the tortellini), I might
    pair differently. Those slow-roasted San Marzanos sound tasty.

    9 Replies
    1. re: maria lorraine

      Sauce sounds delicious--any herbs or other flavors, like garlic? There's a ton of choices, but why not a Falanghina from Campania, a Lugana or Soave from a good producer like Inama, or an Inzolia from Sicily, all (more or less) good blends of crisp acid, fruit, and some roundness.

      1. re: obob96

        Forgive me, Maggie, I misread. If you only need some wine to add to a sauce, then
        Muscadet (Mengathon's suggestion below) is a good one. It's cheap, good, and if you happen to have some oysters around...

        My suggestion was for drinking...wine for drinking with tomatoes....

        1. re: maria lorraine

          No need at all for you to apologize, maria--none at all. I do like to cook with wines that I would drink, and I am looking for something a little special here. By that I mean only, something off my beaten path, which is indeed narrow. So I welcome hearing about the Muscadet, or any of the wines you have enjoyed with or would choose for tomatoes, raw or cooked.

          Whichever suggestions I don't pick, or can't find immediately out here in the "outback" (another tale of woe, for another thread), will go in my little notebook for future menus. For a neophyte like me, there's a weath of information on this board. I'm grateful for your advice.

        2. re: obob96

          obob, yes, definitely other flavors, including either red onions, caramelized, or garlic. Or maybe both, if I'm feeling wild. ;-) Maybe a little bit of chili oil, too. Just a touch, though. I want the wine and tomatoes to be the co-stars and will choose the herbs and spices to support them.

          I really appreciate all your suggestions. I am so in the dark when it comes to Italian whites. Illiterate about them, honestly. I'm thrilled to have so many ideas to research. So many opportunities in my life to learn more about wines, and I let them pass me by. Time to catch up, so thank you.

          1. re: obob96

            Since she is looking for a sturdy white that will offer up its flavor in the marinade and survive the cooking process, then I'm with you in recommending white wines from Campania grown in the same sort of terroir as the San Marzano tomatoes. The best of these are packed with dry extract, body, intense fragrance, and flavor. Besides, Falanghina, see if you can find Greco di Tufo or Fiano di Avellino. Get two bottles so that the cook has plenty to quaff!

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Excellent points, Melanie. But can you get the best of those -- or at least ones "packed with dry extract, body, intense fragrance, and flavor" -- for $12 max a bottle?

              1. re: carswell

                The best of Fiano, no. But there are some good ones around $15. Falanghina is less, and $12 will get a nice bottle. Feudi di San Gregorio's falanghina is about $11 in Calif. and widely available. And, yes, adding them at the end of cooking is preferrable.

                (With any luck, the OP is outside the US and doesn't have to deal with the dollar's poor exchange rate!)

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Wow. Not to engage in SAQ bashing but one area in which they leave much to be desired is the pricing on low-end wines. Our cheapest decent versions of the wines under discussion are the Feudi di San Gregorio and Mastroberardino Lacryma Christi, both of which retail for around $19. (Of course, they were probably brought in before the Canadian dollar skyrocketed.) At least the Mastroberardino is also available in half bottles.

                  1. re: carswell

                    One thing we have in Calif. is low wine prices. We pay through the nose for food, shelter and life's other necessities. Mastroberardino is at the top end pricewise for red and white, and while reliably good, isn't always the best for the money. M was my intro to the wines of this region many years ago and I always enjoy them . . . when someone else is paying.

        3. Sauvignon Blanc will work really nicely here, especially if you reduce it some prior to adding to your dish....

          It hits the tomato and spinach notes very well and there's plenty of good S.B. in your price range.

          You can serve a glass with the dish as well, enjoy.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Chicago Mike

            TY, Mike. I'll marinate the tomatoes briefly in oil and the wine, then roast whole. Ordinarily, I'd layer in a little wine again once they begin to break down, but I like your suggestion of a reduction, maybe drizzled over them to help preserve a rustic texture.

          2. If you're looking for a cooking wine, with all those competing flavours whatever you choose isn't going to make a huge difference in the final dish, unless you choose a heavily oaked wine or highly aromatic variety (Gewurztraminer, for example) or a sweetie. Given the tomatoes' acidity, you don't even need to worry about the wine's. In your price range, two wines I like are the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesu from Macrina and Umani Ronchi, but there are plenty of others from Italy, Spain and France that would do the trick.

            If the wine's for drinking, you've got some fine suggestions above, though personally, while I love tomatoes and like Sauvignon Blanc, I don't much care for them together unless there's a good gob of goat cheese in the picture. YMMV.

            3 Replies
            1. re: carswell

              Well, that's just it, carswell. Rather than a foundation or background note, I think I *am* looking for a highly aromatic, noticeable wine, . I don't see a lot of competing flavors here, not if seasoning is handled judiciously. Red onions, if I use them, are mild sorts, anyway, and moreso when caramelized. If I use garlic, it will be unpeeled whole cloves, tossed in to the tomatoes to soften for spreading on bread or bruschetta. The spinach filling isn't strong. So, yes, I think you've verbalized it for me. Funny, I've been interested in doing something to do with a Gewurztraminer for a while now, but I thought maybe it was little too sweet.

              1. re: MaggieRSN

                Gewurztraminer can be made anywhere from bone dry to cloyingly sweet. One of Patricia Wells's cookbooks has a recipe for "The Taxi Driver's Wife's Secret Mussels," the secret being that the white wine use for cooking is a dry Gewurz. And, of course, it's a secret because no one tasting the final product would ever guess that such an aromatic wine was used (shallots, thyme, parsley and S&P are the only other flavours at play).

                In your dish, tomatoes are definitely a competing flavour -- they tend to obliterate nearly any wine -- as are caramel, garlic and onion, especially given white wine's tendency to lose much of its character as it cooks. (See the mussels story above. Also, I sometimes make a mock "poulet au vin jaune" using a mix of Savagnin and fino sherry instead of pricey vin jaune and have learned to add the sherry only for the last 15 minutes or so of cooking because otherwise its distinct nutty character disappears.) I think this must be why there are very few classic dishes in French or Italian cooking that showcase white wine (Alsace's coq au riesling is a notable excepetion, through it usually doesn't contain much more than the bird, some cream and the wine -- maybe a few pearl onions and lardons -- and even then doesn't have a strong Riesling character), why the standard white for cooking is almost always something clean, dry, sharp and not too fruity or oaky.

                One dish I sometimes make that combines tomatoes and white "wine" (along with carrots, lemon juice and herbs) is a weird take on osso bucco, where the "wine" is Pineau de Charentes, the sweet mix of grape juice and marc. But even then, at the end of cooking all that's left of the "wine" is not any identifiable flavour but rather a roundness derived from the fruit and the sugar.

                Feel free to experiment but, as I said earlier, my experience is that in dishes with competing flavours (i.e. anything beyond butter, cream, bland white meat or fish), the white wine you choose is probably not going to make much difference to the final result.

                1. re: carswell

                  Yes, I suppose one has to experiment, to learn the lessons of the wine. But I’m not interested in wasting wine, money or (most valuable of all) time to pursue vainly what science has shown, and what you and mengathon already know, won’t happen.

                  I don’t need to pour boiling water on my forearm with the objective of warming myself on a cold day to believe that you knew your stuff when you told me, “Maggie, I know you’re cold, but don’t pour boiling water on your forearm; it‘s not going to do what you‘re expecting.”

                  Not to beat a dead horse, but to make sure I’m getting it….

                  If wine is alive, and if whites are separated earlier from the tannic components and tannin’s preservative and character contributions, then it seems logical--thanks to you pointing it out to me--that whites will be even more vulnerable than reds are to the cooking process, as they are to air and time, yes?). (Generally speaking.)

                  Not only to overbearing ingredients, but also to the chemical and structural transformations that heat, light, oxidation, movement bring about. Then add the behavior of our own bodies and brains--e.g., in perceiving the four tastes. I recall Madeleine Kamman writing about that in some depth , but apparently I wasn’t paying close enough attention. I know she also instructs that the slow, separate reductions of a red or white, subsequently added to a sauce, will give a sauce unique personality. I wouldn’t swear in court, however, that she ever states explicitly that personality would include the specific flavor of a given wine (per your Patricia Wells example).

                  Now…I’m approaching wine primarily as a cook. Thus, I’m sitting here doing what cooks sometimes do, which is try to come up with another way to skin the cat (taste the wine in the dish). I AM listening to you about the tomatoes themselves. Yet, there have been some reds (definitely some Cabs, probably some Chiantis and Riojas) that I have been able to recognize as themselves in the finished sauce. So, if I experiment, my quest is to enhance the chances for the same to happen to a white.

                  As I mentioned, the seasonings and aromatics were never definite; they will be chosen subsequent to the wine. I could try…omitting the allia altogether, or, use shallots instead of onions or garlic, or if I must include them, cook any onions separately, not to the point of caramelization, and serve them as a garnish. I would look for a white that’s as durable and heavily charactered as possible, and maybe that’s the Gewurztraminer. The reduction will be a given, whichever way I go.

                  Or I could have hubby pick up Chinese on the way home. But that’s not the manner in which we cooking-obsessives generally torture ourselves.

                  I really appreciate you sharing with me what you know.

            2. Carswell's right. If you're only using it for cooking and roasting tomatoes in this case, the wine you use isn't going to matter much. FWIW, I usually use muscadet as my white cooking wine. It's unoaked and I almost always have a bottle open at home.

              3 Replies
              1. re: mengathon

                Thank you, too, mengathon, for helping to set me straight.

                You know, in all my decades of traveling, restaurants, banquets, receptions, I think Muscadet is one thing I've never even sampled. If I have, I don't remember.

                So, having seen your post, I went to read about it. Very, very interesting, but I'm trying to understand the grape...is this a type of Burgundy?

                1. re: MaggieRSN

                  Maggie,

                  Muscadet (Sèvre et Maine) is from the Loire Valley and is made from the melon de bourgogne grape. I don't know much about the history behind it, but it is a very dry wine, most often characterized by notes of light citrus, minerals, and green apples. It is perhaps best known as the best pairing for fresh oysters. Any restaurant with a good fresh oysters selection is bound to have it. Taking into account price, it's my favorite wine. You should be able to find them for right around $10.

                  1. re: mengathon

                    Melon de Bourgogne probably originated in Burgundy (a little is still grown in northern Burgundy) and migrated to the Loire, where it was appreciated for its productivity and cold-hardiness. Its establishment in the Muscadet region (at the mouth of the river) was due largely to the Dutch, who wanted copious amounts of fairly neutral white for doctoring and distilling. It hasn't made many inroads outside of France, though some was planted in California (mistakenly identified as Pinot Blanc) and it is being experimented with in Ontario (I recently tasted a Melon de Bourgogne from Prince Edward County that was recognizable as a relative of Muscadet).