Summer Picnic Wines

By Michael Green –

The sweat trickled down my brow. With each and every sip, my whole being became overwhelmed, lethargic and terribly unhappy. Physiologically and “gustatorily,” I was perspiring and parched. Very parched.

No, this is not a scene from a Harlequin romance, but perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. Let me set the scene – New York, Central Park. An outdoor concert. I believe it was Pavarotti. Le Nozze di Figaro? I don’t remember. I was focusing on the back of my shirt, soaked with sweat.

The culprit was 14.0%. Alcohol, I mean. One of those glorious rich round and full Napa Valley Chardonnays. You know the ones – they often taste you’re sipping an oak desk. The accomplice was a California muscle boy, that pumped up young California Cabernet with enough tannin to peel the varnish off of a wooden-hull boat.

Now before you think me anti-California, I emphasize that I am not. I love many of these full-blown wines. I often drink them with a knife and fork! These blockbuster wines are some of the world’s best, but as the weather gets warmer my body and palate inevitably drift toward wines compatible with the season. The full-bodied Cabernet that makes you swoon and sigh in the dead of winter probably won’t please you during the warmer months.

Think of it terms of food – our bodies often crave heartier food in the winter and lighter food in the summer.  Does the idea of tucking into a hearty plate of cassoulet excite you when the humidity and temperature are pushing 90 degrees?

As the seasons change from cold to warm to unbearable, we often spend more time both outside as well as in rooms with the AC cranked up. For entertaining, picnics come to mind I look to wines that are light lively and less contemplative. Let’s call them refreshing wines for hot and muggy summer days and nights. Here are some tips:

When packing the picnic basket put in wines that are:


  • Low to moderate alcohol. Strive for wines that are less than 12.5% in alcohol.
  • High acidity.  Knowing a bit of geography can help. Look for wines that hail from cool climates. These will often be the wines that are both high in acidity and low in alcohol. Think New Zealand, Champagne, the Loire Valley and Germany.
  • Optional. A touch of sweetness is fine. Trust me on this one, even a modest bottle of Beringer White Zinfandel can be a better choice for your picnic food than that cult cabernet Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow.


With picnic fare you want wines that are no-brainers. Cold salads, fresh sandwiches, grilled veggies and barbecued chicken beg for wines with straightforward flavors, crisp and light. Many of these wines are also budget friendly. While a bevy of wines fit into these categories, here are some of my favorites:

Blushing:  White Zinfandel, Provence or other Southern French Rose.  Glorious colors, delicate flavors  – and while the Coca-Cola of American wine, white Zinfandel is often off dry, most of the French Rose wines are bone-dry. Try a Vin Gris de Cigare, Bonny Doon, (California). This wine is a stunt double for a French Rose. A bonus is that the label and bottle are really cool!

Crushed: Look for reds from Beaujolais, the Loire Valley and lighter wines from the Rhone Valley. Upfront, dry and fruity reds. Try a Chapoutier Belleruche Cotes-du-Rhone, (France). This wine is for those who like ‘em quite big, but at the same time smooth and light. Always dependable is the Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages (France). This wine is even better when you serve it slightly chilled.

Misunderstood: Riesling. Along with Chardonnay, this is the other great white wine grape. A characteristic is the often off-dry style of many of these wines. German versions often contain under 8% alcohol and these wines strike a classic balance of alcohol, residual sugar and acidity.  Your palate will be rewarded. Try a Selbach-Oster Wehlener-Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett: Granny Smith fruit up front, seething acids to balance it out. A perfect picnic pairing would be a roast beef sandwich.

Bubbles and desserts: Don’t forget these two bookend categories.  Sparkling to celebrate, dessert wine to indulge. For the dessert wines, seek out the lower alcohol, goofier wines. Pick a Cascinetta Moscato d’Asti, Cascinetta, (Italy). It’s the one we call an adult mimosa. Try it not only with desserts, but also with starters such as smoked salmon.

Summer is here, great hot-weather wines are in abundance, so go shopping, phone some friends and pack that picnic basket.



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