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On a recent Saturday in August, 22 aficianados of tomatoes, peppers and wine gathered at our ranch to taste, sample and enjoy about 18 pepper and 10 tomato varieties, as well as 20 different wines. All the tomato and pepper varieties were from our home vegetable garden. All the wines at the tasting were chosen because 1) they originated from Sierra foothill or Valley wineries; 2) they are priced at under $13 a bottle; and, 3) they all came highly recommended, either by local wine merchants or were award winners in judged competition.
Although everyone had their favorites, these varieties scored well among the majority of the participants:
Luigi (sweet). Good raw, excellent lightly grilled. The cylindrical-shaped fruits of the Luigi are about five inches long, with crunchy, firm sweet flesh.
Spanish Spice (sweet). A thin-walled, seven-inch long dark green pepper that adds a flavor neither hot nor sweet when added raw to a salad, but imparts an excellent spicy flavor that even the most finicky tasters (especially those who are not fond of mildly warm peppers) found pleasing.
Giant Aconcagua (sweet). Big and cylindrical, this one is eleven inches long, over 10 oz. in weight, and won raves munched on raw; or cooked, stuffed with tomatoes and beef. I still prefer its similiar cousin, the...
Giant Marconi (sweet). This 2001 AAS Award Winner has (in my opinion) more flavor than the Giant Aconcagua. This one gets about eight inches long by three inches wide.
Inferno (warm to hot, depending upon your tolerance). This is a Hungarian Wax hot pepper, but not too hot (about 1,000 scoville units, I reckon). This is a very productive plant with eight inch long fruit, with medium-thick flesh, maturing quickly to a red color. The heat is more of a delayed reaction (tricky!), allowing you to enjoy the spicy flavor first.
Habanero Red (very hot). Many people run for liquid relief after tasting this tear jerker, which has been rated at 285,000 Scoville Heat Units (a jalapeno, by comparison, is about 3,000 SHU). The fruit shape and size are much like the regular habanero, one to two-inch fruits with a tapered end and wrinkly skin. Very productive plant. Very hot. Still, some say it has a wonderful flavor (as they wipe the tears from their eyes!).
First Lady II Hybrid. This early producer of mid-sized fruit (about 8 oz.) look as good as they taste (or taste as good as they look!). They are blemish-free and very flavorful and juicy. Indeterminate variety (produces throughout the season).
Sweet Million. This is a productive cherry tomato, with tons of fruit on an indeterminate vine that tops out at six feet tall. And sweet! The small (one inch) fruit are great for snacking, straight from the vine. I added this variety to my chili instead of sugar. If I was forced to only grow one tomato plant, this would be it.
1999 Bogel Old Vine Zinfandel (most popular)
1999 Bogel Merlot
2000 Bogel Sauvignon Blanc
1999 Madrona Zinfandel
2000 Nevada City Alpen Glow
2000 Shenandoah Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc (2000 Amador County Fair winner, too)