First of the summer wines: how to host the perfect picnic

Mark the start of spring and go alfresco everywhere with top tips for a wonderful picnic: the kit, the classic food and wine combos, and some suitably celebratory wine cocktails

It’s official, spring 2021 is the season of picnic. Picnic central. Restrictions relaxing, we’ll be going alfresco everywhere with even the slightest sniff of sunshine. Whether it’s in a park, on the beach, in our garden or sitting out on the street in folding chairs, we will be there with cooler boxes, rugs and knotted hankies on our heads. It’s going to be like Wimbledon, Glastonbury, Glyndebourne and the Faversham Cherry Festival all rolled into one. Every day.

Con 2020 behind us, surely you need no help putting a picnic together, so now’s the chance to up your great outdoor game with advice on which wines to bring and how to serve them, including day-appropriate mixers certain to put a spring in your step.

Había una vez, you’d find a suitably quiet spot with just the right amount of shade, lay out the rug, unpack the picnic, take out the perfectly-chilled wine, and only then realise that nobody had brought the corkscrew. Bien, this need never happen again thanks to, largely, the Australians for taking the stigma out of screw caps. Just twist and serve. Sencillo.

What else will you need? A portable cooler box is a good start, plus lots of ice, ice packs and a cooler jacket that fits over the wine bottle. Chill your wines down as much as possible before heading out, including the reds. On a hot day a chilled red is delicious and it will warm up very quickly. That’s assuming the sun is going to come out. On an overcast August day, a glass of room temperature merlot might be just the ticket.

If you’re picnicking by a river or pond, you can cool your wine the old-fashioned way by tying a piece of string around the neck, putting the bottle in the cold water and attaching the other end to a tree. Make sure you do this securely or you’ll make yourself very unpopular when the bottle floats away or is stolen by a gang of marauding swans.

As for drinking vessels, don’t take your best glasses: hardy paper cups are fine or if it has to be glass, Duralex tumblers are pretty unbreakable. Also bring a jug to make cocktails in. Fruit, garnishes and the like should all be pre-sliced. You don’t want to be mucking about with a sharp knife and a chopping board when there’s kites to be flown.

This doesn’t have to be a sommelier-level event – nor, De Verdad, can it be. Can you imagine wine and food matching on a picnic? Are you going to find a wine that goes perfectly with sausages, brie, and hummus? By the way, never mix brie with hummus, they do not get on.

I’d recommend bringing a lightly oaked or unoaked chardonnay, such as Lindeman’s Bin 65. It’ll be particularly good with a quiche or cold chicken but will go with pretty much anything. If your picnic is leaning towards the meaty or you’re barbecuing then a not-too-hefty Australian shiraz, such as Lindeman’s Bin 50, is ideal, especially as they tend to be much fresher than they once were.

Oh, and who doesn’t like sparkling wine on a picnic? A good bottle of fizz turns a meal alfresco into a celebration.

Wine is a great base for a cocktail. It could be as simple as a spritzer – just white wine or rosé with ice, fizzy water and a slice of lemon, or something a bit more involved. Here are a couple that always go down well:

Bicicletta
This is the ultimate picnic cocktail. No measuring required. The name comes from old Italian men who would wobble home on their bicycles after a couple in the evening. All you need is some crisp white wine like a Lindeman’s Bin 85 pinot grigio or Bin 95 sauvignon blanc, a bottle of Campari, Aperol or sweet vermouth, ice and fizzy water. Combine equal amounts of Campari and white wine in an ice-filled glass, top up with fizzy water, stir, and garnish with an olive and an orange slice. You could swap the still wine for sparkling, in which case it becomes a spritz.

Sangria
Always a favourite and a great way of lowering alcohol levels, so it’s particularly refreshing on a hot summer’s day. There are lots of recipes that involve macerating fruit and sugar or adding Spanish brandy, but for an instant picnic Sangria, just add three parts red wine (something fresh and soft, such as Lindeman’s Bin 40 merlot will do nicely), two parts lemonade and one part fresh orange juice to an ice-filled jug, stir and throw in sliced oranges, lemons and mint. Adding a splash of Campari will take your sangria to the next level.

So there you have it – some handy tips for picnic drinking nirvana. Just remember, you can prepare as much as you want but, sadly, you can’t organise the weather. Have a backup plan, or you’ll be drinking biciclettas in the car as the rain pours down. Come to think of it, what could be more British than that?

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