Phaedra Hise on September 19, 2016 0 Comments Almost any time is the right time for a picnic. In spring we are itching to get outside after winter’s dreary chill. In summer we celebrate the long bright days by eating outside with friends, sometimes grilling at home, sometimes spreading a blanket at a concert or fireworks show. In fall our picnics turn into tailgate parties, eking out the last bits of brisk outdoor weather before winter sends us indoors again. Of course some lucky climates encourage picnicking all year long, sometimes even highlighting winter’s even temperatures and bug-free breezes over summer’s sweltering heat. Whichever season you prefer, eating outdoors is a primal attraction, bringing friends together and reconnecting us with nature. Bringing the right bottle of wine not only enhances the taste of picnic foods, it adds a pinch of European sophistication to outdoor eating. But choose well – we’ve pulled together five guidelines to help finesse your selection. Whether you are packing the hamper yourself or bringing along a picnic addition, make sure you choose a wine that elevates the event. Find Your Perfect Picnic Wine Here! 1. Know Your Party It’s important to know the difference between “picnic” and “barbecue,” and choose your beverage accordingly. Tailgates can be particularly tricky to define. To help select drinks, I divide the two events into these general definitions: BBQ: Backyard or car-accessible event, usually drive up and park. Spicy and smoky grilled meats along with powerful side dishes. Main dish usually eaten hot. Picnic: Some walking, cycling or paddling required to reach the location. No cooking on site – foods are prepared ahead and eaten cool or at room temperature. When you look at the flavor profiles and travel requirements, the drinks pretty much sort themselves out. A picnic needs drinks that won’t overpower the food and will travel well. A BBQ works better with stronger flavors, and since you aren’t packing the drinks in you have more options. Honestly, I prefer beer for a BBQ as the hoppy flavors and fizz refresh my taste buds between bites of savory grilled meat. Save the wine for a true picnic. 2. Lower the Alcohol On your picnic it’s likely to be warm, and guests may have exerted themselves a bit to reach the destination. They’ll be thirsty, but you don’t want anyone to pass out after the meal. That means bringing along water and also keeping the alcohol levels low for picnic wines. Wines can range anywhere from about 9% for some European sparkling whites and rosés to over 25% for some rich dessert wines. As general guideline, look for tasty options under 12% for day drinking. Or, you can just add water! Zut alors! That may sound like heresy, but the French actually add water frequently to “proof” their wines down to a lower alcohol level for summer day drinking or to share with younger drinkers. Slip a few ice cubes into each glass or let your guests add their own water from a tasteful insulated bottle. If you go the blending route, consider toting along a liqueur or fortified wine to mix up an upscale wine-spritzery something like vermouth and soda or Campari and soda. Campari is about 25% alcohol, and cutting that with soda water can bring down the levels to day-drinking status. 3. Forget the Cork Rather than fiddle with (or risk forgetting!) a corkscrew, consider a screw top. This can actually be a conversation piece for your guests, who might not know about the increasing popularity of the “Stelvin closure” and how it protects against cork taint. High-end winemakers like Domaine Laroche in Burgundy have adopted this closure. Research shows that the Stelvin works best for younger wines (as they can break down after ten or so years), making them perfect for refreshing picnic bottles. Of course another advantage of the Stelvin is that the wine bottles can be resealed! Actually, this feature cracks me up. I mean, as if you are going to have any wine left. 4. Rosé, Rosé, Rosé! I have a weakness for picnic rosés because they are the perfect color, injecting a note of warm floral pink to enhance nature at the table (or blanket). Also there is such a wide variety available. If your fellow picnickers aren’t hip to the rosé revolution, then sharing a bottle of pink wine is another conversation starter. Take the opportunity to introduce them to a crisp refreshing rosé that is worlds away from the white zinfandels your guests may remember. If they are already rosé fans, share something new or particularly delightful. I am in love with the Chateau La Calisse rosé ($35). Vintner Patricia Ortelli runs an organic vineyard, and has created this classic Provençal rosé. It has a soft salmon color and a lovely fruity texture with a touch of tannin, making it perfect for foods. For rosé I will break my rule on searching out lower-alcohol wines for picnics, as I haven’t been able to find a good one below 13% alcohol. I have not had a chance to try the “Natureo” Rosé from Wine Torres in Cataluña, Spain. This dark rosé is made from Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon with normal fermentation and aging. Then, the winemakers somehow manage to remove most of the alcohol so that only .5% is left. The reviews are solid, indicating this is a full-flavored rosé with berry notes and a long finish, best paired with soft vegetable and pasta dishes. 5. Break Out the Bubbly Nothing says “festive” quite like a glass of Champagne. Of course you don’t have to go full French to inject that bubbly spark into your picnic – there are many other refreshing options available. One of my favorites is Vinho Verde, a Portuguese sparkling wine that is not made from any one particular varietal. The direct translation is “green wine,” and that’s “green” as in “young”. So the wine is fresh, light, and tends to be lower alcohol, only 8-11%. I like the refreshingly gentle crispness Broadbent Vinho Verde, blended from contract-grown grapes in Portugal. Italian bubblies like Prosecco and Asti tend to be lower alcohol as well, usually under 12.5%, which adds to their picnic-friendly vibe. These drinkable wines are refreshing, in a grown-up soda kind of way. Try the Cantine Elvio Tintero d’Asti ($15) from the Piedmonte. This Moscato varietal, which has a touch of sweetness, weighs in at only 7% alcohol. Just a note on refrigeration – on a hot summer day it is important to keep the wine properly chilled. This doesn’t mean to overchill the wine so that it stays cold! It means to hold the wine at the proper temperature for a long period of time. Invest in a proper wine cooler that can accommodate small ice packs (not placed directly on the wine). And if you can find a picnic destination with a cool running creek to chill the bottles, then you have yourself a truly classic picnic.