It rained last week, which in mid-April in Northern California Wine Country means that picnicking with wine can be only a couple of weeks away.
After a cold fall and winter, any warm day seems like the right time to enjoy natural warmth and grab a handful of bottles of the newly released 2017 white and rosé wines.
Picnicking with wine is a wonderful activity since you can get creative with the wine. Imagine a leisurely drive into the hills, along a waterway road or through a remote valley in search of a bit of a respite from midweek’s enforced urbanity.
Planning to hit the road with sandwiches? Chill a bottle of chenin blanc (a perfect picnic wine) or a rosé and pack plastic stemware (many beaches and parks prohibit glassware).
Moments from the past come back vividly.
A decade ago, my wife and I were on the west coast of the south Island of New Zealand, at Hokatika, driving to Christchurch.
Before leaving, we acquired provisions, and midway in the pass through the Southern Alps, we pulled over into a glade at the base of one of New Zealand’s omnipresent waterfalls.
There at a sun-washed picnic table, we dined on local cheeses and bread and a local sauvignon blanc.
The year before, in Spain, our “picnic” was inside the tiny rental car overlooking the Erbo River in Rioja. It had begun raining. The wine was local, of no repute, but it was terrific.
Before that, there was a picnic in the Barossa Valley of Australia, under a handsome weeping willow. The wine: a local verdelho.
Wine isn’t one of the more portable liquids, so taking it with you requires planning. One problem is keeping white, pink and sparkling wines cold while in transit.
There are many expensive carriers you can buy that have blue ice packets in them that will do the trick, but they can be expensive and unwieldy.
One trick I developed years ago works fine, but takes planning: make your own freezer “bag.”
Take an empty bottle that’s the same size and shape as the bottle you intend to picnic with.
Wrap it in wet newspaper, leaving the bottom of the bottle uncovered. Put the newsprint-wrapped bottle in the freezer until it’s frozen. Then free the frozen newsprint, discarding the bottle. The now-frozen paper form is now shaped like the bottle.
Place the frozen form around the already-chilled bottle of the wine you’re picnicking with, and wrap the entire thing in a plastic bag.
The wine will stay chilled for hours. When the picnic is over, the newsprint can be tossed out – nothing to carry home.
Several times I have traveled by train with well-chosen wines brought on board in the baggage.
It usually reminds me of Paul Theroux’s marvelous bestseller, “The Great Railway Bazaar,” in which Theroux dotes on the simple claret and chablis and occasional bardolino that always seemed to be aboard the trains he frequented.
Theroux also mentions pointedly that by the time of his writing, the Orient Express had sunk so low in quality that it didn’t even have a dining car, and adds, “Starvation takes the fun out of travel.”