Any warm day is still great time to enjoy picnic wines. What types are most likely to be found in a picnic basket these days?
A pleasant glass of wine at a backyard picnic, beach party or concert in the park is a wonderful summer treat. Choices abound, but here are some ideas:
Even though I’m not a big fan of Rosés, they are popular and definitely should be served chilled to go with most picnic food, including sandwiches, fried chicken and even hot dogs and hamburgers.
Rosés are usually made by stacking or pressing grape skins and collecting the run-off juice. A variety of grapes have been used to make Rosé, including Chardonnay fruit as well as Zinfandel berries and even Syrah grapes – not all in the same fermenting vat, though.
Depending on how the “bleeding” or stacking process is used in making a Rosé, its color can vary in appearance from a pale white wine to a bright pink. I think many women, including my mom, preferred the color and fruity taste of the Rosé that Santa Barbara Winery produced. I always took her two bottles.
Some sparkling wines, such as Asti and Lambrusco, are also tasty with picnic food and can be quite refreshing on a hot day since they are lower in alcohol compared Rosés and most other wines.
One of my favorite picnic wines is Semillon. I first enjoyed this light, grassy varietal at a wine junket picnic at a Cajun-Creole restaurant in Napa. Served lightly chilled, Semillon complements spicy food, grilled fish, crawfish, jambalaya, shrimp etouffee and even roast rabbit.
Another favorite is Pinot Grigio, which is a somewhat dry Italian-style white wine that is reasonably priced and widely available in California markets. One of my favorite pairings is red potato salad and a big ham or club sandwich with a crisp glass of Pinot Grigio.
A wine that used to be quite popular at picnics is Sauvignon Blanc. I can remember years ago when Sauvignon Blancs were just a bit fruity, cheaper and lighter than other whites such as Chardonnay. But in the past 15 years or so, I noticed some winemakers have been giving Sauvignon Blancs more muscle. By that I mean more complexity, a bigger nose and a lot more satisfaction.
Now, some Sauvignon Blancs I have tried in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties have a lot more pear, citrus and even oak in them. That’s quite a change from say 25 years ago when they were the first white wine on the tasting room list, followed by a Rosé, followed by a new Chardonnay, and so on.
At a picnic, Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with a fish or chicken sandwich or tacos as well as maybe a Cobb salad or perhaps a Cesar salad.
If you want to pay more for a white wine served at a picnic, I suggest Viognier. These grapes are harder to grow and usually have smaller yields. However, I would say most Viogniers I have tried go well with any fish, chicken, salad or Alfredo pasta.
I’m not going to completely rule out red wines at a picnic. A good Tempranillo or maybe a Barbera might be the best thing to pair with a roast beef or meatloaf sandwich or green salad with strips of rare tri-tip. Now that’s mouth-watering.
However, after a picnic such as that the next best thing to have might be a nice nap. Why not? If it’s summer or fall, why not have some sweet dreams about that next glass of wine?
Italian-Style Wines Rival French Style in California
Many Californian wines are influenced by the French style of wine making. However, not far behind are the Italian-style wines.
The favorite Italian varietals include hearty red wines such as Barbera, Primitivo, Sangiovese and Dolcetta, as well as white wines like Pinot Grigio and sparkling Asti and Lambrusco. The whites are usually low in alcohol, but the reds may have an alcohol content as high as 15 percent.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to eat a hearty meal with Italian-style red wines. They are great with steaks and pasta.
And let’s not forget Chianti, which is a popular blend made mostly of Sangiovese grapes. Chianti doesn’t have to come in a basket to be authentic. Look for “Chianti Classico” for the best value. Chianti is a very dry, medium-bodied, moderately tannic wine with a tart cherry flavor
Lambrusco is a sweet, fizzy wine with delicious, grapey flavors. Asti is a sweet sparkling wine low in alcohol, with very fruity and floral flavors.
Pinot Grigio is light-bodied, dry and crisp with subdued aromas and flavors and no oak flavor. It’s tasty even when served cold with a picnic lunch. Usually low in price, it’s hard to tell the difference between an $8 bottle of Pinot Grigio and one that sells for $20.
Italian immigrants greatly influenced the California wine industry. Sebastiani, Mondavi, Martini, Gallo, Parduci and Martinelli are just a few of the Italian-style winemakers still producing great products today.
Barbera became very popular in the 1990s and was produced in great quantities at wineries such as Renwood in Amador County, Boeger in El Dorado County – both Gold Country areas – and Eberle in San Luis Obispo County, which is closer to the Pacific Ocean.
What do all these venues have in common? Intense, 100-degree summer heat and freezing winters are the reasons varietal like Barbera develop great complexity that translates into a bold flavor that clings to the palate.
Barbera originally was produced in Italy’s Piedmont region. It is dry, light- or medium-bodied, with intense berry flavor, mouth-watering acidity and not too much tannin.
Sangiovese has a tart flavor of cherry, red plum, strawberry and fig. It also has hints of roasted pepper, tomato, leather, clay and even tobacco, smoke, oregano and thyme. It’s usually aged in neutral oak barrels where it develops fairly high tannins and acidity.
One of my favorites is Dolcetto, a dark-skinned wine grape from the Monferrato hills of northwestern Italy. What is my favorite Italian-style winery? It’s Mosby in Buellton in Santa Barbara County. That’s where I first tasted Dolcetto and had great encounters with Barbera, Primitivo and even Chianti, which I rarely drink.
Mosby Dolcetto is made from estate-grown grapes that make a full-bodied wine that is great with everyday meals. It has brilliant nose that includes brown spice, herbs and white pepper. It has flavors of plum and cola with lingering finish. It’s great with cheese, hearty pastas, grilled meats or even pizza, although most Italians don’t drink wine with pizza. They prefer beer or soda with pizza, or so I am told.
Whatever you have with an Italian-style red, or most any other style red wine, DO NOT serve it cold or even chilled. That kills its flavor. Room temperature will bring out all the wine’s flavor. You might even consider decanting the red wine to “let it breathe.”
Many people dislike red wines because of the tannins in them. But some Italian-style reds such as Barbera are usually low in tannins and much easier for the novice wine drinker to taste.
How the Drought Might Affect the Wine Industry
Mark Twain once said: “Whiskey’s for drinking and water’s for fightin’ over.”
California and neighboring states are fighting to keep the current drought from giving a new meaning to the term “dry wine.”
With western states receiving less rainfall for the past four years than any period in last 165 years of recorded weather history, the current drought is having significant effects on the wine industry.
However, some experts say the effects are not all bad.
Last year, shipments of wines below $10 per bottle dropped about 3 percent and they continued to decline a bit more during the first half of this year, said Nat DiBuduo, president of Allied Grape Growers, a California trade organization based in Fresno.
He said the drought will mean decreased grape production in the North Coast of California, which some observers believe brings a better quality of wine. However, DiBuduo said, “That’s not necessarily true for the fruit grown in the San Joaquin Valley.”
“I’ve never seen it this dry for this period of time in the valley,” he said. “What the drought has done here is make farmers use water more efficiently by doing such things as irrigating at night to decrease evaporation.”
While sales of wine costing less than $10 a bottle are sliding, DiBuduo said sales of $15-to-$20 bottles of wine are increasing slightly. This has little to do with the drought, he said, but rather it stems from a post-recessionary trend that shows a growing number of consumers have more money to spend on higher-quality wines.
Reports from earlier this year indicate some producers of bottles of wine costing less than $10 are actually cutting their prices slightly to help boost sales.
Experts say using less water on grapevines forces them to produce smaller berries. That means sugar and flavors will be more concentrated. This is called “stressing” the vines. Does the drought put us at the tipping point for stressing?
“That depends on the location and the varietals,” said Nancy Light, vice president of the San Francisco-based Wine Institute. “We’ve had four years of very health harvests, but more rain would give us more options; it helps with the quality and quality of the grapes.”
Some hope is on the horizon as scientists predict an 80 to 90 percent chance of some significant rainfall later this year and into 2016.
This long-range forecast comes from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, referring to the so-called El Niño condition, an anomalous but periodic warming of the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. Every two and seven years, that part of the ocean warms for six to 18 months, even though no one seems to know exactly why.
Weather history has shown heavy rainfall can occur with or without El Niño present. That occurred in the winter preceding the strong 1997-1998 El Niño. So, could this be a boon for wine grapes?
“I’ll defer to NOAA in this case,” said Mark Battany, viticulture and soils farm advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension for San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. He said the relationship between the occurrence of an El Niño and California rainfall isn’t very strongly correlated.
“The prediction in November 2014 was for a wet winter of 2014 and 2015,” Battany said. “(It) didn’t happen.
Experts say that while overall wine grapes are drought tolerant, but they are not invulnerable to long dry spells. They also warn that with too much rain, the grapes can be covered in mildew and mold.
So, experts say, weather is a double-edge sword. The best climate for wine grapes is a balance in the weather – kind of like the balance in a good blend.