Food & wine

Summer al fresco: ideas for making the most of wining and dining outdoors

Our Wine Without Fuss wine and food editor, Steve Farrow, shares tips for enjoyable outdoor summertime eating and drinking, whatever the occasion.

Summer al fresco

Picture yourself on a dreamily warm summer day, cooling glass in hand, something very good to eat, birds singing, pollinators and conversation buzzing. Many of us will have a particular view of where all this is happening – seaside, mountainside, barbecue, at a fabulous festival, at home on the balcony or patio, picnicking in our glorious countryside or at the local park. Whatever your summery happy place, we’ve come up with a basketful of portable ideas to make drinking and dining al fresco as easy as, well, pork pie.  

Let’s start while the picnic is unpacked, or the coals come up to heat, or a band lower down the line-up is warming everyone up. This is a grand time for a G&T and the East London Gin and Tonic with Grapefruit, in a very handy can, is pure portable citrusy pleasure here, especially if salty nibbles and nuts are about.  

Is there a better summery tipple than Prosecco, Italy’s frothy, fruity fizz? Its fresh appley flavours are pleasingly practical (no corkscrew needed) and crowd-pleasing. It’s also happily versatile with food, partnering anything from salads to hams, quiches to sandwiches, and even sponge cakes or Panettone. Cube some sweet, honeyed melon, toss with chopped basil and fruity olive oil and drape with swathes of silky Parma ham – devour it all with a glass or two of Prosecco Brut I Duecentoand you’ve captured summer. 

Cans are, of course,  a brilliant al fresco option; light, compact and easily carried there, in backpacks and hampers, and then away for recycling. But the product has to be good – our buyers wouldn’t list them if they weren’t!  A 25cl can of Provincia Pinot Grigio 2022, (sold in packs of four) with its crisp, dry orchard-fruit-scented contents, is perfect as a refreshing aperitif with those picnic nibbles, while having enough about it for a crab sandwich, or simply prepared shellfish or pasta salads.  

Brilliant all-rounders are something to consider when stepping out of doors, and whatever the destination or occasion, there’s a chance the food is likely to be made up of a variety that is the al fresco spice of life. This is where wines like The Society’s Gavi 2022 come into their own – fresh and zesty with appley fruit that is right at home with anything dressed with pesto, like a pasta salad or roasted summer veg, and it’s brilliant across a range of antipasti.   

And don’t forget 'Bag-in-Box' for those bigger gatherings, from patio parties via big family picnics to festival days. Our 3-litre box of Cotes de Gascogne Tariquet Classic 2022 is one of our most popular wines. Its vibrant, easy-drinking fruit and lightness of touch make it a summer success for parties and party food. Crudités and hummus and cream-cheese-based dips are great partners, as are ‘jam-jar’ salads of crunchy veg and grains, couscous or quinoa, lightly dressed. 

And then there’s fish and chips, whether eaten out of newsprint or recyclable tray, on the greensward or sheltering from the odd summer drizzle. It’s taken to another level with a bottle of fine fizz. Champagne Boizel Brut Réserve NV or a top-class Crémant like The Society’s own are crackers with crisp batter and the pearly fish within, the freshness cutting through the richness of the outer and complementing the inner with panache. Go luxury with oysters and wallow in the joys of succulent smoked salmon or lobster rolls washed down with a fine bead of bubbles. And is there anything more celebratory for cork popping on a sunny day out?  

Summer-in-a-glass sauvignon blanc is another seasonal stunner, refreshingly citrusy and sometimes with a touch of the tropical. From its heartland in France’s Loire Valley comes the Bougrier family’s 'Pure Vallée' Vin de France, 2022, crisp and mouthwatering and made for a salad or baguette stuffed with zingy young goat’s cheese or this herby savoury cheesecake. A Greek salad is grand too. If you haven’t guessed already, Loire sauvignons are superb with goat’s cheese. The fuller, limey, pineapple-inflected Rata Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2022 is ideal with sardines or mackerel that come sizzling from the barbecue griddle, perhaps with an oriental dressing. And the fresh summery flavours of a pea and asparagus tart or frittata will embrace either wine. 

Rosé has taken the world by storm recently for sunny summer pleasure. Fabulous with food, well-rounded, easy-drinking rosé like The Society’s Rosé Pays d’Oc, or delicate, dry and fresh Painted Wolf ‘Ros' Pinotage Rosé, Coastal 2022 are perfect. The Society’s Rosé covers a lot of tasty bases, from barbecued fish and fowl and even lamb or bangers, or spice like coronation chicken. The Cape rosé loves sweet, plump prawns simply cooked, or in a cocktail or sandwich with marie rose sauce. Salmon or tuna are lovely too, maybe in a version of a niçoise salad or an anchovy-dressed Caesar salad or wrap.  

Lighter styles of red, with juicy fruit and soft tannins, really come into their own in summer and are delicious lightly chilled. A Wine like The Society’s French Pinot Noir is one such joy. The former is just the thing for cold roast chicken, charcuterie and ham, even in rice or pasta salads, while the Valpolicella’s cherry fruit deserves the same charcuterie or a bowl of pasta eaten on a sunny terrace, perhaps bathed (the pasta that is) in puttanesca, all’amatriciana or a simple marinara sauce.  

A cru Beaujolais like the ever-popular Exhibition Fleurie has a touch more weight and structure and stacks up perfectly against rare roast beef sandwiches, simply barbecued bangers and all kinds of griddled Mediterranean vegetables – as long as they are spiced rather than doused with sweet, smoky and /or sticky sauces. A pork pie, Scotch eggs, sausage rolls and the like, or a steak and onion baguette, will be mouthwateringly good here.  

And for goodies that come off the barbecue bathed or dunked in those punchy sauces, like pulled pork or smoked brisket? Look no further than a California zinfandel like Gnarly Head Lodi Old-Vine Zinfandel 2020 for its spicy cherry-compote and plum richness, or Wirra Wirra McLaren Vale Church Block 2020 from Australia. Both will take on most things, from punchy spices to big meaty flavours like burgers and festival food-van kebabs or oriental-style marinated meats like teriyaki or bulgogi with rice or noodles.   

Finally, it’s important not to forget the alcohol-free options. You needn’t succumb to the standard fizzy pop here. A cold beer is a great joy in the sunshine everywhere, and a tinny of Mikeller’s Drink'in The Sun Alcohol Free Pale Ale is a gem of a guilt-free brew that has all the versatility of any boozy beer. It’s citrusy, tropical aromas and hoppy freshness marry particularly well with spicy southern-fried chicken or even Caesar salad with its rich dressing. 

A grown-up alternative to a fizzy pop is a bottle of You + I Lime Sea Salt Kombucha, tangy and certainly refreshingly limey, with a hint of sea salt that suggest pairing with battered fish, calamari and the like, although a hint of ginger will help it along with more exotic notes too in, say, a falafel-stuffed pitta bread or zingy Thai-style salad. The multilayered flavours can take on a wide variety of al fresco foods. The LA Brewery Sparkling English Blush Kombucha is a rosé take on kombucha with hints of red fruit added to the flavour mix. 

For a non-alcoholic version of some familiar summer favourites, swap your sparkling wine out for the fresh, apple and lemon flavours of Gratien and Meyer Festillant Sparkling Sans Alcool, made by the producers of The Society’s top sparklers. A bottle of Pentire Coastal Spritz Aperitif would be a fabulous replacement for any spritz lovers – just serve over ice with tonic or soda for a delicious mouthful of naturally herbal flavours and refreshing coastal tones.

There’s something here for everyone who loves eating al fresco, sun on the back, hat on the head, bottle in the ice bucket (or chilling in a stream). Enjoy the summer!

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Steve Farrow

The Society's Wine Information Editor

Steve Farrow

Having spent several years in The Showroom, Steve likes nothing more than chatting with members about food and wine and is our in-house Wine Without Fuss food and wine man.

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