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The Best Picnic Wines for Summer

Plus, tips on how to pack the perfect basket

Janice Williams By June 2, 2022
wine bottles with a picnic setup in the background
Picnic photo by Melike Benli via Pexels. Photo illustration by Pix.

As summer rolls in, the allure of the great outdoors becomes harder to ignore. There are few better ways to answer the call than spread out on a blanket at a local park with a sandwich stacked with cold cuts. 

Yes, folks, it’s picnic season. Do you know where your cooler is? You’ll need it for all the wine. 

A good bottle of crisp white wine, a crushable red, or an easy-drinking rosé can elevate any summer picnic. And picking them out doesn’t have to be a pain. There are plenty of options on wine shop shelves that can provide picnic-perfect pours.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • How to choose the right wines for a picnic.
  • How to pair wines with picnic snacks.
  • The best white wines for a picnic.
  • The best rosé wines for a picnic.
  • The best red wines for a picnic.
  • Picnic basket essentials. 

How to choose what to pack

To create a great picnic, there needs to be a place to sit, food to eat, and something cold to wash it down. 

That’s where the wine comes in. 

The best picnic wines are easy to drink, balanced, bursting with acidity, and full of flavor. These tend to be wines that lean on the lighter side and can be enjoyed chilled. 

Picnic wines should also be portable. Bottles with screw caps are easy to transport and even easier to open, but nothing beats the joy of popping the seal on a cold canned wine. 

With so many winemakers focused on improving the quality of wine in a can — and the abundance of options these days — canned wine is a convenient choice. Not to mention, packing a cooler full of canned wine means no need to pack glassware.

A word on food

Unlike a barbecue where hearty meats, spicy rubs, and sweet sauces steal the show, a picnic is a prime setting where lighter fare takes center stage. Baskets are packed with meaty sandwiches, veggie wraps, salads, and an array of snacks that will satisfy the appetites of those just looking to nibble. A true picnic wine should pair well with even the simplest of foods. 

Pick vibrant wines that are high in acidity. 

“Brighter acidity wines with foods can do no wrong,” says Jessica Green, owner of the Long Island, New York bottle shop, Down the Rabbit Hole.

Green says to reach for bottles of Spanish Albariño, Vinho Verde from Portugal, Italian Grillo, and the light and juicy Gamay wines of Beaujolais, France. 

Picnic white wines

“Light and easy is the way to do it,” Green says about picnic white wines. 

Grüner Veltliner is an easy crush full of vibrant acidity, complex citrus, and herbaceous flavors that won’t overpower the palate when served with lighter foods, while Portugal’s effervescent and fresh Alvarinho provides a crispy, fizzy texture that may feel delightfully refreshing in the dead of summer heat. 

“I like drinking Nortico Alvarinho on a hot summer day at the park or the beach,” says Green. “The wine has this creamy, citrus oil component with yellow apple notes that are nicely spiced and detailed with bright acidity and aromas of peach and grapefruit. A perfect remedy to beat the heat.”

For those who prefer white wines that aren’t so fruit forward, the answer is a perfectly chilled glass of the bone dry and light-bodied Muscadet. The wine displays more green and saline characteristics, while lees-aged styles tend to show more rich and yeasty nuances. 

“Nothing speaks to my soul when it comes to hot weather like a bottle of Muscadet and freshly shucked oysters,” says William Edwards, beverage director over at New York City restaurant Manhatta.

White wines to bring to a picnic:

bottle of Leitz Out Canned Rheingau Riesling

Leitz Out Canned Rheingau Riesling 2018 (~$6)

Don’t let the convenient travel size wine fool you. Though small, this canned Riesling from the Rheingau in Germany, is mighty. Slightly off-dry and crisp, this wine is booming with juicy fruit aromas and flavors and mouth-watering acidity.

bottle of Herdade Do Esporao Monte Velho White 2020

Herdade do Esporão Monte Velho Branco 2020 (~$12)

This vibrant blend of Antão Vaz, Perrum, and Roupeiro hails from the Alentejo region of Portugal. The wine is fresh yet concentrated with ripe flavors of orchard and tons of tropical fruits — hello, pineapple and melon! Dazzling minerality brings it together for a delicious and complex everyday wine.

bottle of Domäne Wachau Federspiel Terrassen Gruner Veltliner

Domäne Wachau Federspiel Terrassen Grüner Veltliner 2021 (~$19)

Domäne Wachau is one of the leading wineries of Austria with a reputation for producing cool and fresh wines with acidity and structure. Grüner Veltliner grapes are hand-picked from steep hills throughout the Wachau valley and make for an exciting style of white wine that’s dripping with fresh green apple fruit and white pepper flavors backed by clean minerality and Domäne Wachau’s signature acidity.

bottle of Les Houx Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine

Jo Landron Domaine de la Louvetrie Les Houx Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie 2019 (~$20)

Jo Landon’s biodynamic Muscadet is light, bright, and lively, displaying generous citrus aromas and flavors that feature a gently salted edge. Top that with dashing acidity and unmistakable minerality, and you get a solid summer thirst-quencher.

bottle of Etude Pinot Gris 2019

Etude Carneros Pinot Gris 2019 (~$26)

Give your picnic the tropical island treatment by pouring a glass of Etude’s Pinot Gris. Made with grapes from the Carneros region of California, this wine is like an escape to an island oasis in a bottle. Pronounced fruity aromas welcome a palate that’s brimming with guava, kiwi, and melon flavors. A hint of lime and chalky minerality come alive mid-palate and extend throughout the long, lingering finish.

bottle of Greco di Tufo, Pietracupa

Greco di Tufo Pietracupa 2019 (~$33)

The indigenous Italian grape variety Greco is used to make this playful white wine. Pietracupa’s grapes grow at high elevation on volcanic rock within the region of Campania, resulting in a highly complex yet playful medium-bodied wine with punchy acidity. Floral and fruit fragrances are pronounced, but the palate is mineral forward.

Picnic rosé wines

Another quality a perfect picnic wine needs is versatility, and few wines can deliver that more than rosé

Some rosés have a longer maceration time to extract more color, or a winemaker could age the rosé in oak to achieve a richer profile. The wine can be still or sparkling and exude various characteristics depending on the grapes used, where it’s from, and how it’s made. 

Looking for something delicious that won’t require much thought? There are plenty of quality bottles of Italian Rosato that hit the mark for delicious simplicity. Want a wine with structure that shines the spotlight on stone fruit and citrus flavors but is also balanced with acidity? Reach for Grenache-based rosés from the French region that put the wine style on the map, Provence. Are you in the mood for an electrifying rosé with great flavor and complexity but don’t want to spend much money on it? Txakoli from Basque Country in northern Spain can help with that. 

Rosés to bring to a picnic:

bottle of Côté Mas Rosé Aurore

Côté Mas Aurore Rosé (~$9)

Côté Mas’ blend of Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah puts the simplicity in simple sipping. Produced in the Coteaux du Languedoc appellation in France, this wine delivers pretty floral aromas and juicy flavors of strawberry and raspberry complemented with acidity. A hint of citrus on the backend gives way to a bright finish.

bottle of Château Saint-Roch Côtes de Provence Rosé

Château Saint Roch Côtes de Provence Rosé (~$15)

Pale pink and dry, this wine made by Saint Roch in the Provençal village of Cuers is intensely fragrant with fresh red fruit and savory spices that evolve on the palate. Drink it alone or pair it with a turkey club sandwich. It will be good either way.

bottle of Ganeta Txakoli Rose 2020

Gañeta Txakoli Rosé (~$20)

This wine is made with sustainably farmed Hondarribi Beltza grapes that grow on Gañeta’s estate vineyards on the coastal green hills of Gipuzkoa, west of the Basque city of San Sebastian. Bright with acidity, this light pink wine displays crispy notes of green bell pepper muddled with watermelon and strawberry flavors. The finish is quick and clean but memorable with tantalizing effervescence that tickles the palate.

bottle of Ramona Dry Sparkling Rosé

Ramona Dry Sparkling Rosé 4-pack (~$20)

This sparkling organic rosé hails from Italy’s Abruzzo region and is made with Montepulciano and Sangiovese grapes. It’s as light to drink as the slender aluminum can is to hold. As for the flavor, the wine is beaming with tart cherry and floral nuances. A clean line of acidity throughout provides a delightful mouthwatering quality that will keep drinkers coming back sip after sip.

Picnic red wines

There’s always a place for red wine, even at a summer picnic. The key is to steer clear of robust and powerful wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel and choose red wines that are light in body, high in acidity, and bursting with flavor. 

Easy drinking Beaujolais Nouveau and its basket of red berries flavor may be the first wine to come to mind, but others are worth sipping. 

Pinot Noir from cooler regions like Australia’s Yarra Valley, California’s Sonoma Coast, and Italy’s Alto Adige, have fruity, spicy nuances that pair well with picnic snacks, while Italian Nebbiolo offers more earthy complexity. Austria’s native grape Zweigelt is bright with acidity and fruity characteristics, and it’s just as good as a solo sipper or paired with food.

Don’t overlook the sparkling red wines of Italy, either. Dry and barely sweet, fizzy Lambrusco can turn any simple picnic festive, says Edwards. 

“If you love Lambrusco and want to try something new or are simply curious to taste a sparkling red wine, get a bottle of Penisola Sorrentina. It’s made in Gragnano, a wine region in Campania, Italy, less known for its wine than its copper die extruded pastas, but it’s an excellent choice,” says Edwards. 

He adds, “Expect dark berry fruit, a dash of balsamic complexity, and a large playful bubble. It also happens to be, what I would consider, a perfect pairing with pizza in the park.”

Red wines to bring to a picnic: 

bottle of Cantine Federiciane Monteleone Penisola Sorrentina Gragnano

Cantine Federiciane Monteleone Penisola Sorrentina Gragnano 2020 (~$18)

Cantine Federiciane Monteleone produces explosively aromatic wines in the Sorrentine Peninsula within the region of Gragnano. This medium-body, sparkling, ruby red wine is brimming with black cherry and blackberry fragrances. On the palate, the wine is fruit forward but exudes a perception of sweetness that is amplified by balsamic nuances. The finish is long and effervescent.

bottle of Marchesi di Gresy Nebbiolo Martinenga 2019

Tenute Cisa Asinari Marchesi di Grésy Martinenga Langhe Nebbiolo 2019 (~$25)

Tenute Cisa Asinari dei Marchesi di Grésy has produced Nebbiolo in the Langhe and Monferrato regions within Italy’s prestigious Piedmont since the late 1700s. So winemakers there know a thing or two about creating a harmonious and balanced red wine such as this one. Intense fruity aromas of raspberry, strawberry, and cherry translate on the palate while fresh acidity and refined tannins provide structure. Give it a slight chill and drink it with a picnic charcuterie full of quality meats and cheeses.

Don’t forget the essentials

Wine is important, but a few other items are crucial to pulling off a successful picnic, and that starts with a proper picnic blanket and any container that can serve as a food and drink carrier, preferably one that is spacious and insulated

Other essential items include:

  • Corkscrew. 
  • Ice or ice pack.
  • Reusable cups or tumblers.
  • Reusable plates and cutlery.
  • Napkins.
  • Sunscreen.

With all the supplies and a good bottle of wine in tow, a simple day of relaxation under the sun can become a full-on experience of enjoyment. Take the chances while you can — summer won’t last forever.