springtime wineIt’s springtime and another bitter Houston winter is behind us. This is the perfect time to shake off frigid memories of days that dipped into the nippy fifties and once again get outside and commune with nature. It’s time for picnics! While ice-cold beer may be the alcoholic picnic beverage of choice, I’d like to point out some wines that will also fit the bill.

Italian Pinot Grigios gain in popularity every year. Some insipid examples offer slightly less complexity than tap water, but the good ones are pleasantly light, refreshing and go great with a variety of foods. Zenato 2002 Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie ($11) is everything a good Pinot Grigio should be, with the added bonus of a toasty hazelnut finish. While prosciutto and melon might not be a traditional Texas picnic item, it is easy to prepare, travels well and is dynamite with this wine. The saltiness of the prosciutto, sweetness of the melon, acidity and slight richness of the wine all work together to create a taste treat that has worked well for centuries. It’s worth a try.

The perfect hot weather, outdoor, easy drinking wine might very well be Vinho Verde. This is a white wine from Portugal (although some red Vinho Verde is also produced) that is highly acidic, slightly bubbly, low in alcohol and eminently quaffable. It is also relatively inexpensive. Its name means “green wine” and refers not to the color of the wine, but the fact that it’s sold young, and should be drunk that way (the wine, not the drinker). Because of its low alcohol content and unchallenging demeanor, it can be consumed for the duration of a softball game, and actually goes well with coleslaw. Santola Vinho Verde Branco ($7) is a good one and would be a lot of fun with a smoked turkey sandwich.

For something more significant, try Domaine Weinbach 2001 Pinot d’Alsace Réserve Clos des Capucins ($19). This Pinot Blanc is rich, full, slightly oily and high in alcohol. While one wouldn’t want to try to quench one’s thirst with this wine, it would be fantastic with grilled bratwurst and sauerkraut or cold quiche Lorraine. It would also make cold fried chicken taste even better, its fruit bringing out the sweetness of the chicken and its alcohol mitigating the unctuousness of the (hopefully) crispy crust. Apart from cloying White Zinfandels, there are several dry pink wines that even the most serious wine lovers would do well to try, especially on a picnic. Tavel, a dry, pink, Grenache based wine from the Rhône in France is the most well known and is a great choice. Another nice option is Domaine de la Petite Cassangne 2002 Costières de Nîmes ($9), a next-door neighbor to Rhône wines. This wine has a beautiful garnet-orange color, firm acidity, smooth but barely ripe fruit and is bone dry. It’s great with sliced salami and crusty French bread, and can’t be beat with ham on rye with a little mustard and a pickle. If your picnic were to take a French turn, this would be a very apropos pairing with any number of pâtés or terrines.

Beaujolais will always be a fun wine, and a Cru Beaujolais even more so, without as many feelings of meretricious guilt. These wines, especially if served a little chilled, are the quintessential gulpable reds. Fruity, juicy, more jelly than jam, with an appetizing acidity that promotes a healthy al fresco appetite, a Cru Beaujolais is a welcome addition to any picnic. Jean-Marc Burgaud 2002 Régnié Vallières ($13) is a good example. It will do any barbecued pork sandwich proud.

If you’re in the mood for a more serious red wine, Vacqueyras, a Grenache, Syrah, et al blend from the Southern Rhône is a fine selection. Domaine des Amouriers 2001 Vacqueyras les Genestes ($21) is a great example. It is sufficiently rustic to not seem fussy, but is rich, full and complex enough to make your grilled hamburger be as satisfying as a grilled rib-eye, or your grilled rib-eye (perhaps with some portabellas and Bermuda onions?) seem like the best thing you’ve ever eaten. Sometimes just eating outdoors is the best condiment.

Joe Abuso is the chef/owner of Recipes & Rotations – Real Food for Mom and Dad, menus, recipes and associated tools to senior-living communities. He is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has cooked at some of the country’s best restaurants.