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Perfect Picnic Wines

July 18, 2013

As many of us are suffering through the hottest weeks of the year, what better time to look at wines that pair well with your plans for a picnic getaway to that special, and hopefully cooler, place.

Unlike barbecuing, another summer favorite, picnic foods are usually served cold, and are lighter fare.  The traditional picnic menu includes the likes of potato salad, cold chicken, cut up veggies, cheese and crackers, fresh fruit, lunch meats, and my personal favorite, fresh sourdough bread and olive oil.  These lighter foods pair best with wines similar in style - light bodied, crisp with acidity, tannin free, and rich with fruit or floral aromas.  Fitting the bill are many whites, Rosés, and even a couple of very light reds.


The range of whites that complement picnic fare is almost limitless.  Look for whites that are light-bodied, crisp (high in acidity), low in alcohol (less than 13%), and have your favorite aroma profile, whether that is a grassy Sauvignon Blanc or a perfumed Gewürztraminer. This style of wine will play well with picnic fare, bringing the food to life while offering a refreshing chilled beverage.  Safe stalwarts include unoaked Chardonnay (emphasis on fruit aromas as opposed to a heavy handed oak influence), Sauvignon Blanc (aromas range from grassy to grapefruit to tree fruit), and Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris.  New World Pinot Gris' from Oregon are a bit fuller in body than Italian Pinot Grigio however, still well within the bounds of picnic accompaniments.  Try a Kim Crawford (New Zealand) Pinot Gris if you can find it, or A to Z or Joel Gott, both from Oregon.  If a lighter Italian Pinot Grigio is your choice try Kris, Conte Fini, Armani or Santa Margherita.

If you want to be a bit more adventuresome, go for a Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a crisp wine with good acidity and citrus fruit (Gattavecchi, Fontaleoni, or Panizzi wineries), or a Vinho Verde.  This often overlooked Portuguese white made from the Albarino grape is known for lots of acidity, and mineral, peach and apricot aromas.


Rosé wines are complex because there is no one style, however they are almost uniformly light bodied, low in alcohol, and rich with aromas, the most common being strawberry, cherry and raspberry.  Rosé wine is versatile when it comes to food pairings.  Best consumed slightly chilled, a good Rosé can work well with most any food you carry along on your picnic.  Try a French Rosé from Tavel or the Loire Valley.  Rosé blends that feature Gamay or Grenache will be lighter than those with Mourvedre, Cinsault or Syrah.


The most important word in selecting a red wine for your next picnic is light.  Lower in alcohol, tannin free, and devoid of earthy aromas will insure that the red won't upstage your picnic fare.   A Pinot Noir, Beaujolais or even a single varietal Grenache can make an excellent picnic companion.  Look for a Pinot Noir on the lighter side, such as those from Willamette Valley Vineyards, Au Bon Climat, Saintsbury and Fog Dog. 

Regardless of your pick, all of these wines will need to be kept cool, so put the wine in the refrigerator a couple of hours before departure, and then break out your wine skin to keep them properly chilled on your next picnic trek.

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