Make a toast to the end of summer by hosting a stress-free outdoor gathering. Putting together a feast has never been easier. Whether your backdrop is the beach with friends, a backyard barbecue or a romantic rooftop, we asked experts for tips on packing a wine picnic, just in time for Labor Day.
“My go-to wines for beach picnics are whites,” says Mark Gleason, director of food and beverage for Big 4 Restaurant at the Scarlet Huntington Hotel in San Francisco. “Opt for a light and bright domestic Sauvignon Blanc with good acidity, like Frog’s Leap 2014 Sauvignon Blanc or Twomey Cellars 2014 Sauvignon Blanc.”
For groups, Gleason also recommends making sangria ahead of time and storing it in a lidded carafe.
“Sangria is always welcome at the beach for crowds, plus you have the added benefit of eating the fruit,” says Gleason. “There are dozens of easy online recipes and the sky is the limit for your base: Viura and Rioja Crianza wines with minimal oak are solid options. Add some chopped fruit and berries, simple syrup, and a brace of brandy prepped the night before and you’re off to the races.”
“For keeping bottles at the correct temperature, make sure the wines are as cold as possible before packing; salting ice packs also helps,” says Gleason. To salt an ice pack, fill a sealable plastic bag halfway with ice and add a handful of kosher salt. Top off the mixture with additional ice, and shake the bag well. “This will boost the temperature down below 32 degrees and it will stay solid much longer,” says Gleason.
“Here are the building blocks for a great beach picnic: dolmas, olives, soft cheeses, fig jam, tabbouleh salad and other packaged Middle Eastern snacks that travel well,” says Gleason. “White wines without a lot of oak work well here and won’t get in the way of pairings. Goat cheese, dried apricots, Marcona almonds from Spain and Sauvignon Blanc are particularly wonderful together.”
And don’t skimp on dessert: “Most people forget the sweets,” says Gleason. “An assortment of bars and brownies will do the trick.”
“A huge help in more breezy beach areas is a wind umbrella and a large enough blanket,” says Gleason. “It will help you spread out and keep the sand out of your bottles and baba ghanoush.” And what should you use to pack your snacks? “I’d recommend a picnic backpack,” says Gleason. “It’s a compact way to load in and out everything needed, and keeps your hands free for carrying a cooler.”
In addition to tableware for four, this backpack includes insulated food compartments and zipper-off wine bottle carriers; $108.
These 4.4 ounce olive bags are available in assorted flavors; $5.
12 ounces of fried and lightly salted almonds; $20.
12-piece assortment of rich bars packed in a tin; $45.
“Pairing wine with barbecue can be a challenge,” admits Michael Greenlee, director of operations/partner at Pig Beach, a barbecue spot in Brooklyn, New York. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. “I like younger, fresh wines for a backyard barbecue,” says Greenlee, who advocates bringing a wide variety of bottles to please a crowd alongside a picnic basket full of sauces and rubs.
“I always bring a light white wine for a barbecue, something with little or no oak but showing some body,” says Greenlee. “I have been enjoying Albariño produced in Lodi, California, like our own Salty Rinse 2013 . But it’s always a good bet to bring along a rosé, like the 2015 Lorenza from California. A blend of Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre and Cinsault, it’s the best balance between white and red. Or you can opt to pack a light red, like Marcel Lapierre 2014 Morgon, which emphasizes Gamay, the grape in Beaujolais. All of these wines work well because they can be served chilled down, which is always a refreshing pairing for spicy, flavorful barbecue.”
“Bigger is always better. Everyone loves a magnum,” says Greenlee. “It’s a great way to get the party started.”
With the resurgent popularity of of barbecue, many of the most well-known spots are selling their products online. “Some of my favorites are the ribs and shoulder from 17th Street BBQ,” says Greenlee.
“In addition to packing high-quality cuts of meat and veggies to grill for a crowd, it won’t hurt DIY types to have a little help in the sauce and rub department.”
“I love what they are doing with sauces at Pappy’s in St. Louis, and recommend the dry rub from our great friend John Wheeler at Memphis Barbecue Company.”
“You will definitely need to think about glassware for a barbecue,” Greenly adds, calling the stemless govino his “picnic wine glass of choice” for its spill-proof portability.
Pack of four 16-ounce shatterproof and recyclable stemless wine glasses; $10.
This 2-pound package can make 8-10 pulled pork sandwiches; $50.
A peppery sauce with unique bite; 19-ounces for $6.
This multipurpose rub works on pork, chicken and seafood; 10-ounces for $7.
Danilo Miguel, general manager at the Italian-wine-focused Felice Ristorante at Gild Hall in New York City’s Financial District, is something of a picnic-packing expert. “This summer, the hotel has been creating tons of gourmet picnic baskets from Felice for our guests and neighbors,” says Miguel. “Incidentally, including a cold wine inside the picnic basket is a great way to keep other foods, like cheeses and spreads, cool.”
“For a rooftop or city picnic, I enjoy a refreshing rosé wine or a light red that can be slightly chilled,” says Miguel. “I’d recommend Fattoria Sardi 2015 Le Cicale Rosé from Tuscany or the Sicilian Tenuta delle Terre Nere 2014 Guardiola. Both have a great, light-bodied structure and pair perfectly with a wide selection of Italian cheeses and meats.”
“Use plastic stemware rather than plain plastic cups to give your rooftop picnic a more elegant feel and you won’t risk breaking real glasses,” says Miguel.
For an urban picnic setting, Miguel recommends scooping up pre-made paninis and pastries from nearby eateries, along with sliced meats and and cheeses imported from Italy. “Fiore Sardo DOP, also known as Pecorino Sardo, is a raw, hard cheese made from sheep’s milk on the island of Sardinia. It’s wonderfully rich in flavor, with caramel sweetness, salty tang and a hint of fruit that complements Tuscan rosé,” says Miguel.
For meats, opt for prosciutto San Daniele or mortadella. “The rich, complex flavors, textures and medium tannins from the Etna Rosso wine pair wonderfully with fattier meats like mortadella classica di Bologna or prosciutto,” says Miguel.
“Sant Ambroeus is my go-to in New York for delicious Italian pastries, including cornetti and cookies, the perfect sweet note to the end of a picnic,” says Miguel. No Italian bakery nearby? Online retailers offer a bevy of authentic baked goods in picnic-ready packages.
6-ounce pack of pre-sliced prosciutto; $16.
1-pound wedge; $17.
This tin contains 14 ounces of addictive Ligurian almond cookies; $24.
“The best trick for keeping wine cool for picnics on hot summer days is to use insulated sleeves that you can keep in the freezer, then slip onto the bottle before heading out,” says Miguel.
After freezing, this cooler sleeve contains gel that keeps 750-ml wine bottles cold; $25.
Saving those corks? Turn them into handles for cheese spreaders, and be reminded of that great bottle you shared. Set of four; $40.
This monogramed carafe keeps sangria or white wines chilled in style; $50.