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Wines that are ready for some football

Training camp was in Napa Valley, when Jerry Rice played for the Oakland Raiders.

The NFL Hall of Famer spent all but 11 of his 303 career games in the Bay Area. Cross a bridge or two, and you’re in the bucolic countryside of Napa and Sonoma valleys in no time.

“Napa Valley was just across the bridge for me, when I played for the 49ers and the Raiders,” said Rice in an Instagram Live call with Justin Vineyards and Winery founder Justin Baldwin. “I’d visit Napa Valley wineries when the Raiders had their camp in Napa. I was fascinated by all the different wineries.”

Football fans are hungry for action as they await the start of another season after no preseason NFL games and limited training camps. The fallout from COVID-19 has led to cancellations, postponements and delays across college football. But there’s reason to celebrate this weekend, as college football games begin to dot the sports landscape and the NFL launches in earnest.

The following wines would be perfect to uncork for a noon or 3:25 p.m. kickoff or “Sunday Night Football” game. Hopefully, it can turn into a celebratory bottle, but as this long-suffering Chicago Bears fan knows, another quarterback competition doesn’t bode well for successful years and long postseason runs.

With three Super Bowl rings, Rice knew playoff success in his career.

“I always wanted people to leave the stadium having seen something special after watching me play,” said Rice in the hour-long call during which three wines were tasted and some football stories were spun.

The Justin Reserve Tempranillo 2017 ($45) was awesome and unlike anything else in their lineup. There were flavors of plum, strawberry, tobacco leaf and vanilla. There’s less than 1,000 cases of Tempranillo produced in California, and this is one worth finding. It would pair well with any grilled meats cued up for a football game.

Tasted for the second time this summer, the Justin Isosceles 2017 ($76) is a cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot blend. A Sunday night dinner of prime rib, rotisserie chicken or lamb chops before the night game would pair well with the wine. Baldwin said the merlot makes the “most food-friendly wine” they produce “more enjoyable.”

“Cab franc is my favorite grape,” Baldwin said. “It gives off flavors of blueberry, violet, lavender and spice.”

Not part of the call, but ready for a football- and wine-inspired weekend are the following wines.

With any grilled foods that can get put into a bun – cheeseburger, smoked sausage or hot dog – zinfandel seems a natural mate. The Robert Hall Dusi Vineyard Zinfandel 2017 ($42) had brambly blackberry fruit flavors and a rich mouthfeel that would play off the juicy, fatty, smoky meats.

This budget-friendly but high on quality option would please a group of friends coming by to watch the game – the Benziger Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($14). It checks in with plush tannins and blueberry flavors and can pair with grilled filet mignon, topped with an herb and garlic butter, or a grilled pork chop.

If seafood is on the menu, the Foxen Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2016 ($38) is a medium-bodied red with raspberry, tobacco, spice rack and loamy earth flavors. Pinot and salmon bring out the best in each other; use a cedar plank on grilled salmon to further the experience.

Lastly, if it’s a late start to the morning and brunch is served with some syrupy french toast, chicken and waffles, or perhaps a chicken or seafood salad, then consider Maso Martis Brut ($21) from Italy’s Trentodoc region. While other wineries in Italy turn to Prosecco, the Stelzer family wines are made in the traditional method and the results are impressive.

This wine would kick off the day right with green apple, grapefruit and zesty citrus flavors.

Hopefully, the bubbles are of a celebratory nature. Given the familiar quarterback questions in Chicago, I’ll hold onto hope and savor what’s in the glass.

• James Nokes has been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Email him at

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