Wines to pack in your picnic basket

08/26/2010 12:00 AM |

My mother always said that a good meal indoors tastes twice as good outdoors. She was a whiz with a hibachi grill, an expert hamburger maker and a skilled picnic-packer. Except for the time (in 1964) she brought warm spaghetti for the family to eat at a Mets game, her picnic planning was flawless. We can forgive her for the spaghetti, as it was an anomaly for our Anglo-Saxon family, and Mom was trying to look worldly-wise in the new Shea Stadium.

I’m still not fond of pasta at picnics, but I do love to eat outdoors. These waning days of summer are better for outdoor dining than the sweltering dog days. For a wine fancier, the East End offers many congenial places for both plain and fancy dining al fresco. Depending on your preference (and their alcohol policies), you can choose from among our many bucolic parks and beaches, the wineries that sell food or permit picnicking and the restaurants that offer outdoor dining.

I used to take disposable plates and utensils to the beach but, in an effort to keep plastic out of the trash, now I keep a stash of yard sale-quality, machine-washable accoutrements ready for excursions. The random assortment of forks, Granny’s frayed linen napkins and scratched, mismatched plates are awful indoors, but charming at the beach. So what if I lose the wooden-handled forks I got for free at a Rochester Mobil station in 1972?

You don’t need an elaborate wicker picnic basket, but do pack everything neatly in separate containers, the food well-chilled and pre-sliced.

Choosing a wine for a picnic is not at all the same as choosing wine to go with similar foods indoors. A breeze and sunshine will alter your perception of aroma and flavor, so delicately nuanced wines are wasted outdoors. Woody wines will taste clumsy and high-alcohol wines are as foolish as tanning oil. I don’t agree with those who think a picnic is an opportunity to cheerfully serve rotgut and get away with it. You don’t have to serve expensive wine, but do be thoughtful about how the wine and food will play together.

Aromatic but dry white wines are picnic-worthy, especially those with plenty of acidity. I like Bedell’s Taste White, a blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, viognier and gewúrztraminer, but at $30 a bottle, at a picnic it’s better for a couple than a crowd. Clovis Point’s 2006 Chardonnay has a kicker of 1 percent gewúrztraminer that takes its fruit into the assertive category, nice if you’ve got some fried chicken or a chunk of aged manchego. Raphael’s sauvignon blanc is splendid with Braun Seafood’s mixed lobster and shrimp salad (to which I add fresh ginger and lime juice and serve on a hot dog bun, like a lobster roll). Enough has been said already about rosà wines, so choose your own. As for reds, Long Island cabernet franc is light and spicy, great with grilled sausage or Serrano ham on a baguette.

The Peconic Bay Nautique wines are intentionally fresh and uncomplicated, well-matched for outdoor eating, and the grounds of Peconic Bay Winery, with their cushioned chaises and big umbrellas, are most hospitable for tasting and picnicking outdoors. There you can purchase small plated tapas to go with your wine tasting. Some other vineyards sell tasting plates to pair with their wines. Croteaux Vineyards’ courtyard ambiance enhances the flavor of its tasting selections, while cheese or charcuterie on the deck at Wölffer Estates is unparalleled for outdoor elegance.

Paumanok Vineyards welcomes you to bring your own picnic to the winery’s spacious deck. While picnicking at Osprey’s Dominion, you can even fly your kite. But remember, it is extremely rude (not to mention illegal) to drink alcoholic beverages other than those purchased on site, so do not, under any circumstance, bring your Budweiser or your Gallo Sonoma to drink at a local winery. The wineries are in business to sell wine; they are not parks. Call ahead for their picnicking policies.

I wish the villages would allow more cafà cuisine. When I don’t want to pack my own picnic, I do enjoy dining on the deck of Greenport’s Cuvà e as well as the Vine Cafà ‘s patio. On the South Side I like Citta Nuova in East Hampton or Sant Ambroeus in Southampton. On Shelter Island, the terrace at the Ram’s Head Inn, where I recently dined, was superlative. Clams with spicy sausage, Macari sauvignon blanc, a rising moon and music by the Baxter-Miller Band — now, that was worth a detour.

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.