In this month's column, Le Cordon Bleu Master Sommelier Matthieu Longuère tells us how to create the perfect drink to accompany your summer picnic.
With summer in full flourish, we thought it apt to look at the perfect summery tipples to enjoy alongside a picnic. Picnics can be utterly joyous, whether with children or a more sophisticated affair with friends, but good planning is the most essential ingredient. Finger foods are best, think of produce that is at its best when served ambient, and plan accompanying drinks carefully.
Whichever your chosen beverage, screwcaps are typically the most convenient when dining al fresco, and many a good wine comes in this form. Of course make sure the drinks are stored appropriately, chilled where needed (especially on a warm day) and kept dry and cool for the likes of red wine.
As picnics tend to involve lots of different types of foods (mezze platters; fresh bread; charcuterie; strong cheese etc), the most important thing is to pick a drink(s) which can easily be paired with a variety of foods.
For wine, it is relatively easy. Whatever the colour, you just need something without too many tannins or too much oak. These both clash with the acidity and freshness that you usually associate with picnic food, especially if you are eating raw vegetables and fruits.
Aside from the obvious Sauvignon Blanc, one might want to try a Grüner Veltliner from Austria. There are numerous good examples out there, with one of the best being a wine below 13% ABV which will taste fresher and fruitier.
For rosé, I would recommend something riper and fruitier, made out of Grenache or Garnacha grape and from as recent a vintage as is available; 2018 from the Northern Hemisphere and 2019 from the Southern Hemisphere. You will find some good examples from Navarra, Rioja in Spain, the Languedoc, the Roussillon and the Côtes du Rhône in Southern France, South Australia and South Africa.
For Red, the key is that the wine needs to be soft with a refreshing acidity, and very smooth. The usual suspect would be Pinot Noir or Gamay, which are ideal for early drinking. Marlborough from New Zealand, Casablanca and Leyda of Chile, the Loire and Beaujolais from France are also excellent choices. An advantage of this style of red is that they are delicious when served chilled.
Looking at alcohol-free options, iced tea is incredibly easy to make and truly refreshing. Personally, I find green tea is the best starting point as it doesn’t need to be sweetened to balance out the dryness of the tannins in black tea. It is better brewed using actual leaves. The most common green teas are Chung Me, Gunpowder or Sencha. The secret for brewing green tea is not to boil the water and not to let it steep for too long; 70 degrees Celsius is the ideal temperature and a minute and a half would be more than enough.
You will need two grams of tea leaves (a full teaspoon) per 200ml of water. You don’t actually need a tea pot. Just place the tea in a measuring glass and pour the hot water over. While it is still a clear bright colour, drain it through a sieve into a large glass jar. Let it cool down almost fully before placing the lid on and placing it in the fridge. If you want to, you can add some mint leaves or a slice of lemon at the last minute before serving.
Another homemade tipple would be a concentrated base of pink grapefruit and lemon juice, fresh ginger and mint leaves, pass it and add it to cold sparkling water just before you leave home. For those with a slightly sweeter tooth, just add a few drops of apple juice.
A picnic lends itself to a variety of beverages including ale, champagne or dry cider, but hopefully, these suggestions above will provide some fresh inspiration for this year’s outings. Now, we just need to hope for sunshine!!
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