When I think of a picnic, I tend not to just think of ham sandwiches and Scotch eggs, lovely as they are, but a whole array of foods and styles and even methods of preparation such as barbecuing. When asked for advice on picnic wines, I always draw on the guidance I give members looking for help with wedding, party and Christmas wines.
First among these is the tip to always look to crowd-pleasers. As with the other occasions there is a lot going on in the background: there are often many different types of foods on offer, not only tastes but also textures and even temperatures. Getting the perfect dinner-party match I don’t feel is feasible.
For me a picnic is not the time to break out a vintage claret or your finest bottles. In this situation, I would recommend, without disrespecting them, viewing the wines as sauce for the food, facilitators, the supporting act, if you like. If the wine is good then it will suit this type of experience, enhancing the occasion. Fruity, low-tannin reds and vibrant, refreshing whites tend to dominate my recommendations.
Think too about alcohol levels: you probably don’t want wines that are too heady, or full-on (though there are some notable exceptions in my choices below). Portability is a consideration too – screwcaps have obvious benefits, but you might want to consider cans or even bag-in-box wines for larger groups. Or there are wines like those from Lubanzi with their clever resealable screw-cork closures. I also tend to look to countries that bask in the sun and where al fresco dining is the norm – holiday hotspots like the south of France, Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal.
My go-to six for picnics
A white I love and which draws on my Portuguese roots is The Society’s Vinho Verde. Light in both alcohol, and body, the subtle spritz and freshness is perfect for outdoor drinking and a winner if you’re grilling sardines or serving up a salad niçoise.
Nothing screams summer like sauvignon blanc and so Château Thieuley with added sauvignon gris and semillon gets my vote – the additional grapes temper the sometimes-acidic sauvignon blanc, making it a little rounder without losing the characteristic cut-grass aromatics which are like summer in a glass. This is a classy white Bordeaux, great with a goat’s cheese tart.
Rosé naturally excels in summer and Alpha Zeta has the Mediterranean feel and fullness to offer up a wonderful match for cous cous with roasted vegetables.
Don’t forget the reds and I favour chilling them slightly. Chinon from the Bougrier family has that cabernet franc crunchy red fruit that I find is great with all things meaty from charcuterie to pork pies, pâtés and rillettes. Keeping the wine cool can be an issue but I put it in with cheeses when packing my picnic up, then they both benefit, the cheese opens as it loses its chill to the wine.
If you’re going to be grilling anything on a barbecue I find this kind of food fares well next to the unashamedly big and bold Brazin Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel, let the sweet spice match the smoky food and this is one wine where higher alcohol levels are par for the course – zinfandel is one of those grapes that just doesn’t do it in half measures!
It would be remiss of me not to mention my affection for sherry and its ability to match with a whole host of foods. Sipped modestly, it has the ability to enliven every mouthful. Tuck a well-chilled highly portable half bottle of Solear Manzanilla, Barbadillo into your picnic hamper to awaken your palate and transport you to southern Spain!
Hopefully my foray into the outdoor dining has helped with possible choices and we all get the chance for some fun and food in the sun.
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