Picnics and the wines that love them
© Sheral Schowe
(Originally published in the Catalyst newspaper in Salt Lake City)

It's time to shake out the picnic blanket, dig the cooler out of the basement, and start thinking about the great places you have enjoyed an out door meal. Picnics have a lot of meaning for many people. For our family this week, it means sitting on the porch for dinner because the rest of your house is either flooded from a non-compliant washing machine hose or so full of furniture and boxes (soggy ones at that) that there is no room for serving a meal. Aside from the necessity of eating outside, there is nothing better than a simple meal paired with wine while enjoying the spring weather.

Picnics seem to have some sort of global significance. In Italy, there are many lakes, which are surrounded by vineyards. The locals of those regions catch fish from the lake then grill them with local vegetables. The wine served at these picnics come from the grapes along the shores and hillsides around the lake. Lake Garda is one such spot where Trebbiano grapes grow to the south and south west of the lake. The name of the wine is Lugana, a dry white wine with high acidity. It is a refreshing quaff for a summer picnic and the perfect match, so say the locals, for Garda fish. Lugana is available in Utah for $11.50.

Last summer, I visited the elaborate winery of George Duboeuf in Beaujolais. We were treated to a picnic lunch, which was an example of their local fare; fresh ham, an assortment of cheeses, breads, potato salad, grilled vegetables, and bowls of fresh fruit. Sounds like picnic foods doesn't it? The wine grapes grown in Beaujolais are predominantly Gamay. The Gamay alone is responsible for 100% of Beaujolais wines exported to the United States.

The wines can be identified by the labels of Nouveau Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages, and cru appellations including Brouilly, Chenas, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Julienas, Moulin-A-Vent, Morgon, Regnie, and St. Amour. Beaujolais wines have a common characteristic, which makes them a perfect match for picnic foods. They have bright fruit flavors like cherry or strawberry, low in tannins, and high acidity. The last wine profile you are looking for on a fresh spring or hot summer day is one with high tannin, high alcohol, and a heavy load of oak influence.

Further up the road in Burgundy, I enjoyed many outdoor dining experiences, some definitely in the picnic category. I discovered that whereever you go in Europe; the locals have generations of experience in the food and wine business. It stands to reason the winemakers would create a beverage for the table that would complement the regional foods and recipes. In Burgundy, we enjoyed rich dishes that were easily transported in a picnic basket. Pate En Croute looked like a large loaf of bread. When we cut thick slices, a center of veal, pork, foie gras, truffles and mushrooms was displayed. I can't imagine a better wine than a brightly acidic, though earthy flavored, Pinot Noir to accompany the Pate, breads, and cheeses of the region.

If you ever have the opportunity of traveling to the Carneros District of Napa Valley, you will find the same type of climate that exists in Burgundy. It is no coincidence that the same wine grapes grow in both places. Last week, eight of our traveling wine group visited Acacia Winery. The table set outdoors by the California poppies and the endless rows of vines was a welcome sight to behold. We sampled Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from single vineyard lots. Each had its own distinctive personality. Charles, the Chef of Acacia prepared an elegant meal to compliment the wines. The main course was very similar to what you might find in the best restaurant in Burgundy; tenderloin of venison in a Pinot Noir reduction sauce with Chanterelle and Morel mushrooms. Even the ice cream on the hot cobbler had the purple hues and rich flavors of Pinot Noir. A five-course meal in the vineyards of Carneros paired with gorgeous wines. It doesn't get much better than that.

Wines can pair with the most elegant and the simplest of food preparations. At Rombauer Winery on the Silverado Trail in Napa, we enjoyed K.R.'s wonderful Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon with a variety of sandwiches and salads. The trick is to bring a couple different styles of wines with which to pair a variety of flavors and textures. Dining outside among the flowers in full bloom with perfect weather on picnic tables was a delightful showcase to Rombauer's exquisite wines.

While my house dries out, my porch and back deck will be my picnic zone. When your picnic spot becomes a place of refuge and solace, you will want a wine that brings comfort to the soul. Whatever wine evokes pleasant memories for you can be your perfect picnic wine. In this case, I am enjoying the Fife Zinfandel with fond memories of this wine in a beautiful place for a tasting, new friends named Karen and Dennis, and a glorious dinner at the Culinary Institute of America's Greystone Restaurant.

Happy spring and enjoy your wine picnics!

April 2002

To contact Sheral Schowe, write her at sheralwine@aol.com.

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