How is it that food tends to taste better outdoors? Is it that fresh air works up an appetite, or that everyone helps out (for a change!). Or that relaxing feeling of warm sun on your skin. Perhaps it’s that people linger and spend time with each other, rather than sloping off to watch TV for the evening. In a world where cooking has become almost competitive, it is reassuringly satisfying to realise that the best meals are often about company and ambiance rather than cooking skills.
Perversely, outdoor eating poses challenges to enjoying wine. Fresh air tends to dissipate all-important aromas from wine. Also, outdoor-cooked food tends to be more strongly-flavoured. Grilling creates smoky flavours, especially when charcoal is used. Open flames caramelise sugars in food and marinades, and this sweetness can dumb down wine’s flavours. Marinades are laden with spicy, garlicky herby flavours too, creating more competition.
The best choices would be young wines with vibrantly fruity flavours. In reds, think Chilean Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, simple Chianti and Tempranillo to match picnic fare. Spicy and smoky wines like Pinotage, Shiraz, Zinfandel and Mourvedre are great with grilled meats. Southern French reds (Languedoc, Corbières, Minervois) and Argentinean Malbec work brilliantly too.
In white wines, round fruity whites like Chardonnay, Roussanne and Viognier are superb all-rounders. Dishes which rely heavily on marinades are well-matched with flavoursome fresh whites with zippy acidity, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Rueda, Gewurztraminer and Riesling.
In rosé, opt for full-bodied versions from Spain and the New World for bolder dishes, and use medium-sweet rosé to tame spicy fare.