The rules in wine pairing are meant to be broken. I recently discovered four summer and fall wines—one white and three interesting reds—which pair well during summer heat and fun. The wines are easy to drink and easy on the purse since several are delicious second labels from the winery. Vintners and winemakers offer tempting pairings with these wines.
Borgo San Michelin DOC Custoza, NE Italy
While on trips to Italy, I visited Verona without learning about Custoza DOC wines. Recently on a Zoom virtual tasting, I discovered these “whites of Verona.” Located between Lake Garda to the east and Verona to the west, the Custoza DOC comprises 500 growers and 70 wine estates, and several larger family wineries and cooperatives. the Consorzio Tutela Vino Custoza ensures that Custoza white wines are made from at least 70 percent Garganega, Trebbianello (related to Fruilian Tocai) and Bianca Feranda, a local clone of Cortese. The other allowed wines include Malvasia, Riesling, Pinot Bianco, and Chardonnay.
The terrain of Custoza harks back to the glacial age, which carved out Lake Garda. As the glacier retreated, the debris of stones, humus, and morainic soils was deposited on the hills of the amphitheater surrounding the lake. The cooling breezes from the lake, the warm sun on the hills, and the calcareous soil composition bring refreshing minerality and acidity to the fragrant grapes.
With winemaking documented from Roman times, vineyards today dot the rolling hills. The name of a primary municipality of the area, Sommacampagna, derives from the Latin meaning “high countryside.”
The Gorgo family has farmed the area since 1975. Roberta Bricolo’s parents launched the winery and were among the first to introduce Custoza wines at international events, export the wines and expand hospitality options in the region. In 2014 Bricolo assumed ownership, converted the winery’s 131 acres to organic production, and established more eco-sustainable cultivation practices. She is also the president of the Consorzio.
The Gorgo San Michelin represents the winery’s focus on white wines with delicate aromas of white fruit and herbal notes, a savory yet soft mouthfeel, and a consistent medium body. I find that Custoza wines, in general, especially the San Michelin, are delicate whites yet hold enough body to pair with a cheesy risotto or grilled fish.
When I asked Bricolo what foods she recommends for a summer pairing, she replied, “Fried courgette (zucchini) flowers with fillings such as burrata cheese and sun-dried tomatoes are an excellent pairing duet. Our wine has mineral characteristics and a saline finish. Both characteristics refresh the palate and tempt you to take another bite. And the wine’s fruity and delicately aromatic fragrance will, in a way, take you on a journey to our land.”
Pombal do Vesuvio Duoro Superior Portugal
Symington Family Estates is the largest landholder in the Douro Valley with 26 “quintas,” a term used for both vineyards and specific wine estates. Best known for their four-port houses, Dow’s, Graham’s, Warre’s, and Cockburn’s, Symington also produces still wines at three wineries in the Douro Valley and one in the Alto Alentejo region.
Quinta do Vesuvio is a Symington winery in the Douro Superior region with one of the largest vineyards at 336 planted acres. Established on a grand scale in 1827, the stately estate house and winery were built near the water for easy downriver transport to Porto.
The property offers stunning vineyard views. With B Corp certification, Symington tends to the environmental and social impact of their wine growing.
While on a press trip, we had the opportunity to explore the vineyards, enjoy the wines with dinner, and stomp grapes for Port in the traditional style. The Douro Valley is the largest mountainous wine-growing region in the world. I stood in awe at the stunning vineyard vistas as the vines snaked around the slopes and hills.
Quinta do Vesuvio’s top wine is eponymously named Pombal do Vesuvio. It is the second label made from a larger percentage of Touriga Franca plus Touriga Nacional and Tinta Amarela. “Pombal” is Portuguese for dovecot, a stand for housing domesticated pigeons found on the property. The grapes arrive in 20 kg boxes, are sorted manually, and then gently destemmed. The aroma brings black fruit, chocolate, and thyme. This well-structured wine has an alluring freshness that speaks to drinking soon but aging for several years is a strong possibility.
During the dinner we sampled the Pombal do Vesuvio and Quinta do Vesuvio. Though I liked both, the balance of dark fruit flavors with fine acidity drew me back to the Pombal glass more often from the salad through the steak dinner.
I contacted Hugh Symington, Marketing and Communications Director at Premium Port Wines, the importer for Symington Family Estates, for a favorite summer pairing with the Pombal do Vesuvio. He immediately replied that he likes a simple seafood salad with the wine and suggested a popular Spanish octopus tapas well-known in Portugal as an excellent match.
Intercept Pinot Noir, Monterey County, California
Switching fields of play, I confess that relocating to Calif. spurred my interest in researching all things vinous. In addition, due to the proximity of the SF 49ers and the Raiders during their stint in Oakland, the move also reinvigorated my NFL fanaticism bred in childhood by my loyal Philadelphia Eagles fan parents.
When I heard that a former Raider, Hall of Famer Charles Woodson, was making wine, I decided to learn about his unexpected, post-football career move. Like me, Woodson discovered his passion for wine after moving westward and attending training camp in Napa. On-road trips at post-game dinners, Woodson and player friends recognized the bond that happens organically over breaking bread and sharing quality wines.
Delving behind the scenes, Woodson learned about winemaking and how the process relates to football. “When you watch a game on Sunday, you see the final output of all the time we players put in the week before, maybe even the summer before. It’s the same with wine. You get to enjoy the final product but don’t see all the work that went into it. The weather, the terroir, the blending—it all affects that bottle.”
Early on his vinous journey, Woodson briefly produced the TwentFour brand named for his former jersey number. A few years ago, Woodson partnered with O’Neill Vintners & Distillers, a company that owns 15 national wine brands, including Line 39 Wines and Robert Hall Winery. The partners launched four Woodson labels, aptly named for his 65 career interceptions, the fifth-highest all-time NFL record.
The winemaker for Intercept wines is Amanda Gorter, a native of Calif.’s Central Valley who works with Woodson to follow his preferred style. With Paso Robles fruit, Gorter crafts the red blend and the Cabernet Sauvignon, Intercept’s top-selling wine in Woodson’s preferred style of approachable tannins.
Intercept Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are sourced from Monterey County.
Sensing a good sipper and food pairing wine, I was surprised to see the wine had 15 percent ABV and asked Gorter about this high alcohol. She replied, “With Pinot Noir, we craft a more structured wine when we have greater ripeness on the vine. The higher alcohol is the by-product of our focus on fruit profile and structure. I think 15 percent alcohol, while high for traditional pinot noir, supports our goal of structure with a fruit profile.”
Bottom line, I share Woodson’s taste in wine because his Pinot Noir is one of my go-to wines with its medium body and smooth texture balanced with good acidity. I asked about his favorite summer food pairings, and he replied via email, “Enjoy the Pinot Noir with grilled salmon, braised duck, or stuffed portobello mushrooms.”
The former defensive back and Intercept partner Jeff O’Neill set up the Charles Woodson & O’Neill Family Wine Scholarships for the next generation of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC). These scholarships support full funding for viticulture, enology, or wine business students at Cal Poly or Sonoma State University.
Odette Estate Adaptation Napa Valley, Calif.
Odette Estate in Stags Leap District has an interesting backstory. Aware that the Plumpjack winery group owned the winery, I surmised a connection to Shakespeare’s wine-loving Sir John “Plumpjack” Falstaff character. Moreover, Odette was Plumpjack’s mistress. Other Odette allusions are evident in Marcel Proust’s writing and Swan Lake ballet.
Odette was also the name for one of the French judges who voted for the Calif. red wine and was roundly embarrassed at the famous 1976 Judgement of Paris competition. Given that the original vineyards of Odette Estate were the second planted after the competition’s wine winner, neighboring Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, the nod to the French judge reveals another vinous connection.
The owners of the Plumpjack group are composer-musician and philanthropist Gordon Getty, John Conover, and non-active partner Gavin Newsom, the current governor of Calif. When the group assumed ownership of the property from Steltzner Vineyards in 2011, they preserved elements of the former winery. They built a modern winery with an eco-friendly roof and a light-filled tasting lounge with many Gold LEED-certified sustainable elements.
Jeff Owens was appointed winemaker in 2012. His inaugural vintage received 100 points in The Wine Advocate—the first inaugural cabernet sauvignon release so honored with a perfect score and the first to receive the score under a screwcap. Owens makes an Odette Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon under screwcap and cork.
A new label, Adaptation, was planned before the covid-19 shutdown. Owens noted that everyone—including winery staff—has adapted to life during a pandemic.
Unlike the Odette Cabernet Sauvignon, grapes for this wine are sourced beyond the estate. When I asked about the difference with Adaptation, which is offered at half the price of the Odette red wines, Owens said, “The main difference is the people that are involved. I work with friends who are local growers that share a similar passion for crafting wines that represent this amazing terroir. My grower friends adjusted to our style and are willing to make extra passes and picks at harvest. This ensures that we optimize every block and the fruit we receive is in prime condition.”
For Owens, the blending for the first vintage of Adaptation 2018 released in late 2021 was a winemaker’s playground with grapes from Howell Mountain to Oak Knoll, Carneros, and more. “We have mountain sites that provide the framework and structure, accompanied by valley floor Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that help fill in the gaps and round out any hard edges. Tannin management, extraction, and mouthfeel are important during maceration to ensure that we have ample richness and integrated tannins while maintaining freshness.”
I like the array of impressions when drinking Adaptation—the lively first sip, the dark fruit flavors, and the silky texture. To pair with Adaption, I have served up blue cheese-dressed salads, roasted vegetarian medley, grilled salmon, and chicken. When asked for his favorite summer pairings, Owens said, “Anything on the barbecue pairs with Adaptation. But my favorite is Burgundy pepper marinated tri-tip.”
Whether it is very hot or mild, or if you crave meat or salad in the summer, these four wines may find a place at your table. Slightly chill the reds if you like; I won’t tell anyone. We often break the rules on wine serving at our house.
Cantina Gorgo https://cantinagorgo.com/en/
Custoza Wines https://www.custoza.wine/en/
Quinta do Vesuvio https://www.quintadovesuvio.com/
Intercept Wines https://cwinterceptwines.com/
Odette Estate https://www.odetteestate.com/