Your Guide to Summer Food and Wine Pairing


This article is part of a summer California winery series, California DreamingDiscover more articles here!

Picnics in the sun, dining alfresco in the evening, courtyard wine dates, and backyard barbecues are all ingredients for some fantastic summer meals. So, whether you head up to your urban rooftop or step out from the sliding glass doors to a suburban pool, there is one constant: it’s all about wine and food pairings.

Good meals almost always include cheese and charcuterie boards that are easily shared among friends and family. Warm weather brings to mind light dishes, such as salads full of seasonal vegetables and seafood in various preparations. Then, of course, it’s all about the grill: beef burgers topped with melted Gruyère, pork chops drizzled with a berry glaze, or grilled Portobello mushrooms. From there, we dare you to find one person who can resist a summer fruit crumble à la mode.

But how to pair it all with wine? Prepare to stock up, then click the elements on the table to learn what wine to serve with all your beloved summer dishes.

Germain Robin

Aged Manchego

Mature cheeses like an 18-month aged Manchego need a flavorful, rich beverage. Sometimes that means looking beyond your typical varieties to brandy, a distilled spirit made from wine grapes. California’s Germain-Robin crafts a silky version from Pinot Noir in Pruhlo Charentais pot stills, the same used in Cognac. Its resulting hints of cherry and vanilla soothe the hard cheese’s nutty and salty notes.

Creamy Brie

No cheese board is complete without a creamy Brie, which usually means a prime sparkling wine is in order. The best wine to sip alongside that gooey cow’s milk cheese is J Vineyards & Winery's Cuvée 20. The sparkler from the Russian River Valley combines Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier into a lively bottle of bubbles. The delicate acidity zips right through the fat of the cheese — alongside a palate full of fresh apple, lemon, and ginger notes. The wine will also bring out the best in popular accouterments like dried apricots (a favorite of sommeliers) and California almonds.

Orin Swift Red Blend Abstract

Cured Meats

Known for its power-packed red wines, Orin Swift Cellars delivers with its 2019 vintage of Abstract, a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Petite Sirah that screams nothing other than “charcuterie!” The wine’s savory characteristics combine with its black plum and dried herb notes to pair perfectly with a selection of cured meats. Everything from salami and chorizo to prosciutto and speck deserves a place beside this wine, as well as soft cheese topped with fig jam.

Sharp Cheddar

Try the sharp cheddar with an oaky Chardonnay like William Hill Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay 2019.

Herbed Goat Cheese

A fruit-forward and elegant Pinot Noir like Talbott Vineyards Kali Hart Pinot Noir 2018 will bring out the earthy flavors and creamy texture of herbed goat cheese.

Cow's Milk Blue

Strong cheeses like a cow’s milk blue need well-structured wine, so pair them with the robust Louis M. Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018.

California Old Fashioned

Aperitifs like the classic Old Fashioned are made to whet the appetite, so what better way to kick off a summer party than this West Coast spin? The California Old Fashioned swaps in Argonaut Brandy for whisky, giving the drink more sweetness, floral aromas, and dried fruit characteristics.

Salmon Tartare

The key to pairing wine with raw fish, like salmon tartare, is to find a wine that’s light in body with great acidity. Enter: sparkling wine. J Vineyards & Winery Brut Rosé is a dry bubbly, made in the traditional method with Pinot Noir sourced from some of the best cool-climate sites in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. The wine is lively and bright, with a fizz that dances on the tongue, and a zippy acidity that cuts through each bite of fatty fish. Plus, the flavors of fresh-picked blood orange and lemon complement the citrus notes of a classic tartare.

J Vineyards Estate Pinot Gris 2019

Spring Salad

Surprisingly enough, salads aren’t always easily paired with wine. Most vinaigrettes can be tricky, as can vegetables like asparagus because of their high acidity. But seasonal ingredients like sweet pea shoots and raw fennel over mixed greens shine when served alongside a Pinot Gris. The medium-bodied J Vineyards & Winery's 2019 Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Gris offers a round mouthfeel — thanks to partial aging in neutral French oak — while retaining the grape’s iconic citrus and herbaceous flavors. Plus, this crisp, palate-refreshing wine has enough acidity to stand up to any dressing.

Talbott Chardonnay 2017

Roast Chicken

The richness of a barrel-aged Chardonnay, such as Talbott Vineyards Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay 2017, stands up to the fat of a roast chicken and complements fresh herbs like thyme. Some argue the best part of the bird is the crispy skin; pairing a bite of that caramel exterior with this single-vineyard Chardonnay, with its rich oaky notes of vanilla and brown sugar, is worthy of a chef’s kiss. Made from Dijon clones of Chardonnay grown in Talbott’s acclaimed Sleepy Hollow Vineyards (Santa Lucia Highlands AVA), the 2017 vintage also offers a creamy mouthfeel from long lees aging as well as a zesty acidity that invites sipping between each bite.

J Pinot Noir

Grilled Mushroom with Summer Berry Glaze

For an umami bomb, toss a Portobello mushroom on the grill with a mixed berry glaze and serve it alongside a glass of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Spoiler Alert: You may hit peak summer. The black cherry, wild blueberry, and hint of toasted oak in the J Vineyards & Winery 2018 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir echo the earthy flavors of the mushroom topped with a compote of raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries. The velvety smooth red wine also complements pork chops or eggplant with the same preparation — so go ahead and make all three.

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2018


Build your own burger? Yes, please. Grill some beef patties and offer a toppings bar, filled with options like caramelized onions, Gruyère cheese, truffle aioli, heirloom tomatoes, and thick-cut bacon — all paired with a robust Napa Cab to stand up to the strong flavors. The pinnacle of the Louis M. Martini portfolio (i.e., extremely good), the 2017 Lot 1 showcases standout blocks from iconic Napa Valley vineyards, resulting in a blend that exhibits power, depth and intensity and features notes of plum, dark fruit and toasted oak.

Germain Robin

Peach Crumble

We’ve heard you can bake a dessert with brandy, but we prefer to sip our Germain-Robin XO alongside its own sweet treat. To make the best use of summer fruit, whip up a peach crumble, top it with homemade vanilla ice cream, and serve with a snifter of brandy. The complexity of the spirit adds layers of flavor to the dessert, echoing the best parts of the dish: stone fruit, toasted oats, and vanilla cream.