Nothing captures the essence of food, wine and friends quite like the Italian expression Dolce Vita—the Sweet Life. Summer is a perfect match for whites, and crisp autumns beg for a red. San Diego’s picture-perfect weather provided both on a sunny 78-degree weekend with temperatures briskly dropping toward evening.

Our fun group of wine-lovers, members of the Southern California Wine Review Council, had the privilege of not only sampling some fine Italian wines, but pairing these sumptuous red and white varietals with some outstanding homemade Italian foods.

This month’s wines featured seven selections from Northern Italy’s Perla del Garda and Vigna Petrussa vineyards, and Southern Italy’s La Fortezza.

Surrounded by swaying palms in a lush tropical setting we began our tasting with a 2018 Perla del Garda Perla, a light, refreshing, straw-colored 100% Turbiana that finished with smooth minerality. The white wine, aged in stainless steel tanks, paired beautifully with Prosciutto-wrapped melon and a feta-stuffed puff pastry topped with caramelized onions finished with a dollop of strawberry-rhubarb jam.

The slightly deeper-colored Perla Del Garda Madonna della Scoperta is also made with from the Turbiana varietal, but aged in both stainless steel and then 10 months in small oak barrels. With a nose of apple and pear and a touch of lemon, the medium acidity of the wine was the perfect accompaniment to the Hearts of Palm and Prosciutto Bruschetta.

We were all impressed with the Perla Del Garda wines to say the least. For my husband and I who lived in Southern Italy for three years, it was though we were transported back to the day we sat with friends sipping wine among the Greek ruins of Italy’s Paestum. “This wine” my husband exclaimed “brings back the memories of the many refreshing high-quality Italian whites we drank there. The Perlas are amazing!”

A cream-cheese chutney, bacon and green onion appetizer was a delicious pairing for our third white, the Vigna Petrussa Richenza. Presenting with a deep-golden color, this white aged in French oak was smooth on the palate with hints of apricot, peach and vanilla harmonizing with the fruit chutney of the rich hors d’oeuvres.

With the setting of the sun and the rapid Pacific cooling of the California air, it was time to bring on the reds…and what a delight these were as well. The Vigna Petrussa Schioppetinno De Prepotto reflected a light red appearance sporting hints of green pepper and berries. Light and smooth, this earthy varietal paired well with the slight sweetness of Italian Barbeque Meatballs.

Refosco Dal Peduncolo Rosso was next on our tasting itinerary. This dark, inky-hued wine actually derives its name from the vine’s red stalks. Complex, tannin-heavy with high acidity and definite hints of herbs, it was the perfect accompaniment to Eggplant Parmesan whose base sauce contained authentic Italian crushed tomatoes and plenty of Italian red wine. This, we agreed, was a wine and foodie match made in heaven!

Big, bold reds are what we named the two wines from La Fortezza near Naples, Italy. Nurtured along the vineyards of the Ionian Sea, the 2012 Aglianico Del Taburno DOCG is deep ruby-hued featuring a dark berry taste. This is definitely a wine that should not only be opened early to let it breathe, but one that goes with a variety of robust-flavored foods. It paired beautifully with Sangiovese Meatballs smothered in red sauce and mozzarella, but also held up nicely with the rich cream cheese and mango chutney appetizer.

Last but certainly not least, the 2018 Aglianico Del Taburno DOC Reserve underwent malolactic fermentation in oak barrels for 24 months. This deep garnet-colored red with intense aromas of berry fruits, tobacco, and spices exhibits a definitive black pepper aftertaste. Smooth, rich and intense, the flavors of the Del Taburno DOC meld beautifully with aged cheeses and main dishes featuring red meat like our Italian and Sangiovese Meatball entrees.It’s one you almost need a cigar with!

When all is said it done, wine and food pairing is not only fun, it’s always an eye-opening surprise on what actually pairs best. Keeping an open mind and trusting your palate is most important.

American author, radio and television personality Clifton Fadiman once said “If food is the body of good living, wine is its soul.” How true.