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Culture: The Best Picnic Wines, from Rosés to Deep Reds

Culture: The Best Picnic Wines, from Rosés to Deep Reds

You’re sitting in a park under the shade of an oak tree on a lightly-padded blue blanket. There’s a pick-up soccer game in the distance and other park-goers are scattered about, lying on blankets, reading books or simply soaking up some rays. You spot your group of friends coming down the path with a picnic basket. They were responsible for the food, while you were in charge of finding the perfect wine. The bottle is—of course—set beside you chilled in a cooler. As they get closer you pour the wine into accompanying glasses and hear the satisfying “glug, glug. Yes, a picnic on a warm day with an exquisite bottle of wine is how to do summer right. 

But what makes a good picnic wine?  

“A picnic wine should be aromatic, relatively light and taste good when chilled,” says Wine Enthusiast’s Jim Gordon, senior editor of the Tasting Department and reviewer of wines from California.  

Anna-Christina Cabrales, Wine Enthusiast’s Tasting Director and reviewer of wines from Burgundy and Rhône, echoes this sentiment. “The wines should be delicious, flavorful and fun to share with other people. They should also be easy to manage, meaning you won’t have to worry too much about temperature or aeration.”  

Of course, finding wine that everyone can enjoy and is easy to pair with food can be a tall order. Luckily, we pulled together some of our favorite picnic wines, from whites to reds, to help you get started.  

White Wines Perfect for Picnics 

With vivid fruit and floral aromas, these white wines complement a wide range of foods. As a bonus, they are on the lighter side and won’t weigh you down.  

Best Sparkling Wines for Picnics 

Light, refreshing and divine when chilled, we can’t think of a more satisfying beverage to enjoy on a hot summer day.  

Rinaldi 2021 Moscato (Moscato d’Asti)

If I had not seen the crystal clear shimmering wine in the glass, I would have thought this was a Bellini on the nose. The vibrant and intense peach aroma dominates the wine. There are subtle hints of mint and lemon, but this wine is a peach orchard in a bottle. Luckily, the bright acidity keeps the wine intact and allows it to end vibrantly and with a freshness that a Bellini lacks. 91 Points. — J.P.

$ Varies

Best Rosés for Picnics  

Hello! Rosés are meant for drinking outdoors, with food and near the ocean, lake, river or pool.

Best Light Reds for Picnics 

Don’t count red out. These bottles pair well with a wide array of food and are light enough to enjoy in the heat of summer.  

Madroña 2019 Lake Tahoe Zinfandel (El Dorado)

This light and lively Zinfandel incorporates fresh, bright red and black fruit aromas and flavors along with a lovely integration of floral notes and subtle oak tones. Earthiness adds depth and complexity. Rich, mouthcoating tannins will smooth with time, but this wine is absolutely enjoyable right now. 90 Points. —S.B.

$ Varies

Michael David 2020 Bechthold Vineyard Ancient Vine Cinsaut (Lodi)

“Vibrant red” is the first thing that comes to mind when engaging with this red wine. Find aromas and flavors of fresh raspberry, wild strawberry, red plum, cranberry and pomegranate complemented by notes of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and hints of roses, violets and jasmine blossom. A well-balanced acidity keeps fresh fruits forward from start to finish and adding a lightness and brightness to the wine as a whole. 90 Points. —S.B.

Michael David

Best Bold Red Wines for Picnics 

If slow-cooked barbecue or burgers are involved in an outdoor feast, you need bold reds.  


Which Wine Is Best for a Picnic? 

It can be helpful to look for wines that have flavors and aromas of cherry, watermelon, saline and lemonade, which are common in many dishes and will make them easier to pair, notes Gordon.  

But at the end of the day, it’s all about your preferred taste. As you can see from the list above, you certainly aren’t limited to any one style.  

“If you decide your ideal picnic wine is a fizzy Trousseau, great,” says Cabrales. “If you’re with a very serious wine drinking crowd and feel the need to bring a high-end bottle, then go for it. Bring something that you and others will enjoy.” 

What Wine Essentials Should You Pack for a Picnic? 

First and foremost, you’ll need a wine opener. (Of course, we have some handy tricks, should you forget one!). Second-most important item to pack in your tote? Glassware, which can range from acrylic, plastic to stemless. If you do opt to go the traditional stemware route, consider springing for a padded tote bag like this one. That way, you won’t spend the picnic cleaning up broken glass. Lastly, Cabrales suggests bringing some napkins for potential spills.  

How Do You Keep Wine Cold for a Picnic? 

Nothing kills the buzz quite like a lukewarm rosé or sparkling wine.  

“Virtually all whites, sparklings and rosés taste good chilled, but not ice cold,” says Gordon. “It’s also why I recommend avoiding high tannin, fuller-bodied reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Syrah for a picnic. However, many Pinot Noirs, inexpensive Merlots, Zinfandels, Chiantis, Grenaches and GSM blends can take a chill and keep on kicking.” 

Gordon and Cabrales have a few tricks to keep your wine nice and cool.  

“If I’m bringing multiple bottles to share with friends, sometimes I’ll line a water-resistant picnic bag with ice packs or frozen bottles of water to help with temperature,” says Cabrales. “Or I’ll even bring chilled wines in an insulated or stainless-steel-lined thermos if I don’t want to bring the bag.” 

Similarly, Gordon suggests a cooler with ice. “Or bring your wine in an insulated bag and throw in a couple of those freezer packs stashed in the fridge because you didn’t know how to recycle them. There are also good custom-made wine carriers with built-in insulation that work for several hours if you pre-chill your wine in the fridge.” 

Why You Should Trust Us

All products featured here are independently selected by our team, which is comprised of experienced writers and wine tasters and overseen by editorial professionals at Wine Enthusiast headquarters. All ratings and reviews are performed blind in a controlled setting and reflect the parameters of our 100-point scale. Wine Enthusiast does not accept payment to conduct any product review, though we may earn a commission on purchases made through links on this site. Prices were accurate at the time of publication.

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