First published in the Irish Times, Saturday 6th August, 2016
As a child I loved eating outdoors. It didn’t matter if it was a picnic, or simply sitting outside the back door with a few sandwiches. A real picnic was always a huge excitement, packing those boxes of sandwiches, sausage rolls (essential picnic fare), bags of crisps, flasks of tea and jam tarts.
My inner child still enjoys a good picnic. Like many others, when on holiday in France, I love dropping in to the local traiteur to pick up a few salads, cold meats and pies to eat with a crusty fresh loaf and a bottle of simple red wine. I also love to eat al fresco at home. Wine-wise the (correct) advice is to go for something cheap and cheerful. But does eating outdoors have to be so casual? On several trips, I have been taken off into vineyards or up hillsides to be treated to a very posh picnic. It helps that we were in slightly warmer climates and that someone else was looking after food and transport.The most memorable was half way up a mountain with an amazing view out over the countryside, where our Catalan hosts served the classic Spanish dishes – tortilla, pan con tomate, grilled chorizo and lamb chops and salads. What made our picnic so sensational was the superb quality of every ingredient, including the delicious wine. And we were sitting outside enjoying the gentle warmth of the spring sun. We also had proper knives and forks, linen tablecloths, and even Riedel glasses.
It is of course a lot easier to eat out on your own patio or back garden. You can serve hot food, and use your best dinner-party tableware, including candelabra, to create a real sense of occasion.So, what wine do we need for our posh picnic? A good Champagne is probably essential to set the mood and get the taste buds going. With salmon, and other fish, prawns, or even lobster, a rich-ish white Burgundy would do best, or an upmarket New World Chardonnay.
Alternatives would be a Godello from Galicia or a rich Grüner Veltliner from Austria. Or you could just keep drinking Champagne. I know a lot of people see rosé as the perfect picnic wine, so maybe pink Champagne would keep everyone happy. Cold meats, pies and charcuterie call for a light red. I have covered Beaujolais and Mencía here already, and both would be ideal. If going upmarket, you could open up a good Pinot Noir, and serve it cool. Burgundy is best but, to add a little excitement, why not go for a German Spätburgunder or a Pinot Noir from Austria or New Zealand?
Delightful complex rich Champagne with seamless textured toasted brioche and apricot fruits.
Stockists: Jus de Vine; Thomas’s, Foxrock; O’Briens; Redmond’s; Sweeney’s; Mitchell & Son.
Delectable creamy medium-bodied wine with rich pear and apple fruits, with subtle grilled hazelnuts. Brilliant with salmon dishes.
Perfumed and bursting with lush ripe sweet raspberries and red cherries.
Vivid and mineral, delicious flowing green fruits and a crisp finish.
Stockists: One Pery Square, Limerick; Jus de Vine; The Drink Store; La Touche, Greystones.