With the Fourth of July just around the corner, my thoughts lean toward outdoor get-togethers and picnics. So what kind of wine should you bring to a picnic? Time to bust out one of your cherished old-growth Bordeaux? I don’t think so. For picnic wines, I have two words for you to remember: light and fruity.
Having said that, I’ll also confess that I don’t believe in many rules regarding pairing wines with picnics. After all, picnics aren’t supposed to be stuffy. So why should your wine choices be? Chances are that you’ll be drinking cold wine out of plastic cups in warm weather: Not exactly a great showcase for boutique Cabernet or Gran Cru Burgundy. Save those for a situation where you’re more in control of the elements.
The key, I think, to choosing wines for a picnic is versatility. Chances are that you’ll be eating a wide range of foods with an even wider range of flavors. Shrimp cocktail, potato salad, bread and cheese, spicy chicken or ribs, fresh fruit'the flavor possibilities are literally endless. So I’d choose wines that are friendly with a lot of different flavors. And that usually means a wine that is fruity and perhaps slightly sweet. You want a wine that can cut through strong flavors like barbecue sauce, soy or teriyaki sauces, cocktail sauces, mayo, vinaigrettes and the like. I’d also suggest a wine that’s relatively low in alcohol since at an informal gathering like a picnic, you’re more likely to be swilling than sipping.
My favorite all-purpose picnic wine is RosÃ©, perhaps due to strong and cherished memories of drinking it on picnics in the Luberon. I think it’s a very versatile wine that can dovetail nicely with chicken and seafood but also has enough soul to stand up to something like chilled roast beef with horseradish. There’s lots of good, inexpensive RosÃ© to choose from here in the state. Some of my favorites are Bonny Doon Vin Gris ($10.95), Tortoise Creek RosÃ© ($7.95), Perrin Reserve RosÃ© ($9.95) and, when I want to imagine I’m sipping a house wine in Cannes, Chateau D’Aqueria Tavel RosÃ© ($17.95). I also recently discovered an intriguing RosÃ© from the Hunter Valley in Australia called Margan Shiraz SaignÃ©e ($12.95). It’s a crisp, clean, dry style of RosÃ© with lots of pepper and strawberry flavors. This one would be killer at a Fourth of July barbecue.
Aside from RosÃ© for picnics, there are a lot of other directions to go. Fizzy wines like Vinho Verde or Prosecco add some punch to a picnic. A simple, light and fruity Vouvray is very versatile. Pinot Gris such as King Estate is quite good, and an always-safe choice for its flexibility with food is Riesling.
However, my other favorite picnic wine aside from RosÃ© is GewÃ¼rztraminer. Again, it’s a fruity wine that’s low in alcohol and one that can be immensely versatile and enjoyable at a picnic or cookout. If you really want to impress your picnic associates, spring for a luscious bottle of high-end GewÃ¼rztraminer from Domaine Schlumberger or Trimbach. For the more value-conscious, I like producers such as St. Michelle ($7.95), Hogue ($9.95), Columbia ($12.95) and Bargetto ($12.95). An especially good choice for everything from fish and fowl to spicy Asian and Mexican flavors is Rosemount Traminer Riesling ($12.95) from Australia. This blend of Riesling and GewÃ¼rztraminer has nice mineral underpinnings, citrus flavors, plenty of fruit but ends bone-dry. It’s a terrific wine that travels nicely from the porch to the picnic. You’ll love it.