WINING AL FRESCO
This summer looks to offer some timely trends in the wine world that will make Al Fresco dining even more enjoyable. There are all the new wines coming out: the myriad dry rosés; the affordable sparkling wines ranging from "brut" (pronounced “broot” and means “dry”) to “extra dry” (means “slightly sweet” in sparkling world) to the new varieties of crisp and refreshing whites from Portugal, Southern France, the islands off Italy to the light, chillable reds and the luscious fruit-infused sangrias from Spain. Then there is all the trendy and convenient new wine packaging.
A few skeptics and purists in wine world may still turn their noses up at screw tops and scoff at boxed wines, but not all that wine is “plonk” (a British/Australian expression for low quality, cheap wine). In fact many are much more than just decent wines. Even wine critics admit that boxed or screw top wines are finally showing quality they can review and getting the respect they deserve. On the production side, wineries are getting smarter about how they deliver wine to market, in eco-friendly and cheaper packaging that doesn’t leave the environmental foot print that making, disposing of and shipping heavy glass does.
More and more wine buyers pay attention to the environmental practices of wineries, just as they pay attention to where their food comes from, how it is produced, or even how the farm workers are treated. And wineries are responding, avoiding chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, conserving water, and most recently turning their attention to costs of traditional packaging.
Do you have any idea what the average case of wine weighs? Have you ever hefted a case of Champagne in its traditional heavy glass? Even a case of more modest glass bottles weighs about 40 lbs. I used to lift fifty of those cases every two days. That is one ton, no joke, one ton. Millions of tons of wine in bottles are shipped, trucked and flown around the world every day. It adds to your cost, no doubt!
But there are there are also advantages to the new packaging that simply add convenience and joy to informal dining. Wine in screw tops, boxes and cans are convenient. They don’t need that elusive corkscrew you can’t seem to find or forgot, or find a struggle to use. The containers are light, so the small formats cool down quickly over ice in the cooler and the large boxes stay cold longer. They can more easily be backpacked into a campsite, and the empties are easily recycled or backpacked out of camp. They are self-serve. Put the box on a picnic table with the spigot hanging over the edge. Press the button in and you’ve tapped into the wine or throw the cans and small bottles or card board containers into the ice cooler.
Screw Top Wines
Most of those delightful summer sippers, the crisp and refreshing whites and rosés, are now coming with screw tops. I love them. Not only are they easy to open, but they can be immediately closed back up so fruit flies and yellow jackets don’t hover. The tightly closed bottle will keep—lying down in the fridge—for a couple days. A Screw Top Tip: Do not try to open with a corkscrew! Yes—it happens a lot! Grasp the cap firmly with one hand and twist the bottle itself counter clockwise with the other. To store close tightly and place in fridge. Screw top bottles are nice for dining on the wooden deck of your house, but heavy to tote and will usually break when dropped on the stone terrace or cement grill pad.
Screw Top “Splits”
Not a new concept, but “hot” on the market is the so-called “split” or 187ml, a single serve. And you don’t have to split a Split of Sparkling wine.
Sparkling Moscato or Rose from Castello del Poggio 10/$10. For an al fresco wedding reception toast, you could consider filling coolers with ice and these “splits” or provide each table with an ice buckets heaped with ice and “splits” for the toast. These are all sparkling, slightly sweet, low alcohol, and utterly delicious. Comes in white, rosé and red.
3 Liter Boxes
Stretch your wine dollars with a 3 Liter Box (aka Bag-in-a-Box), popular for several years. With sales continuing to grow by leaps and bounds. WHY? You could Price is great. Just do the math. A 3L box = 4 bottles of wine. At $20 a box, you are spending $5 a bottle.
Tip: Inside the 3L box, the wine is contained in a mylar bag with a spigot. Put the bag directly into a cooler full of ice. Or strap it to your kayak and let it chill under water as you head down the river.
La Vieille Ferme Rosé and Red 3L are easy drinking, “Best Value” wines and have always been among our top selling French wines year after years for decades. The rosé is medium dry with hints of fresh strawberry, perfect, well chilled, for fried and grilled chicken. The medium bodied red is a grilled meat kind of summer red. It summer, you will want to cool it before serving.
Bota Box 3L Cabernet Sauvignon There are always people who even in summer want a BIG red to wash down the charcoal grilled steak. Here is a Cab just for that person. You can cool it just a tad to keep it from making the red only drinker get over heated.
Black Box 3L California Chardonnay, Rosé, or Sauvignon Blanc are all good example of their varieties. Make sure to chill thoroughly and it will still cool on the picnic table for a couple of hours.
Made of layers paper and aluminum foil, these sturdy, lightweight, earth friendly containers, look a bit like adult juice boxes. They come various sizes, easy to open and to close up tight, easy to recycle.
Bandit Pinot Grigio, an award winning, Gold Medal Pinot Grigio and a flavorful and refreshing summer quaff, is our pick from this category. Bandit, a partner with the National Parks Foundation, is dedicated to producing good wine in environmentally friendly cardboard containers.
Pulpo Loco In a 250 ml cylindrical cardboard carton, this low alcohol wine is definitely a single serve! It is made in Spain from Tempranillo red wine, slightly sweet with fresh fruit flavors and just a hint of cinnamon.
Wine in Cans
Driven by the adventurous millennial wine drinker, and with a nod to the trail blazing breweries that prove you can put great beer in cans, wines in aluminum cans in several sizes from 200 ml to 375 ml are the latest addition, from single serving to shareable size. Most of these, like beer in cans, have a refundable deposit in Michigan. Toss them in the cooler with the beer. They chill down fast, they don’t break, they are easy to hold, and they don’t need a glass.
Dark Horse Pinot Grigio or dry Rosé These 375 ml cans, the equivalent of a half bottle of wine are shareable, about 3 good sized glasses of wine—and they are good summer sipping!
Coppola Diamond Collection Sauvignon Blanc In an easy to hold 250 ml can and equivalent to about a glass and a half of wine, this is a traditional, classic California Sauv Blanc…in new clothes.
Begonia Sangria Mmde from organic grapes and infused with natural fruit flavors, this Spain Sangria comes in a narrow 330 ml aluminum can. It’s crazy good, a medium dry, elegant quaff, only shareable, if you can bring yourself to share.
Visit your Wine Steward at Forest Hills to discover a great selection of wines for al fresco dining and find out what new things are coming in this summer.