Drink & Dine: Wine and Food Pairings for Summer Picnics

Drink and Dine

Picnics represent the ultimate in relaxation — beautiful weather, simple food and drink and a gathering of family or friends to share it all with (unless you prefer to enjoy it alone!). Photo: azgek/Getty Images

With the Solstice and Canada Day in the rear-view, it’s finally safe to say it’s summer — the perfect time to savour the layabout sun and the soul-nurturing warmth it brings. And picnics are a splendid way to do just that. They can and should be simple and, though arguably best shared with family or friends, can also be just for one with a sandwich and a good book beneath a shady tree. 

Wine enhances food, and both wine and food fuel picnics. And while laws across the country prohibit alcohol consumption in unlicensed public places like parks and beaches — excluding Quebec — there’s no law against picnicking in the back yard or on the balcony. In that spirit, we suggest something super refreshing, something Canadian and something classic among wines along with food pairings to elevate your al fresco summer spread.


Something Refreshing


Wine newbies may not yet have encountered Vinho Verde, which is delightful and strictly a summer sipper in my book. This refreshing export from Portugal literally means “green wine” or young wine that is best consumed fresh (as opposed to cellared) and is notable for having a light fizz — originally a result of malolactic fermentation in the bottle but today more likely to be artificially carbonated. Vinho Verdes are also typically lower in alcohol than other wines, making them a wise choice for daytime drinking. The name Vinho Verde refers to the winemaking style, not a grape varietal, so the wines can be white, red, or rosé though, again, my preference is for whites, which seem more apropos in summer. 

Pair With: Conventional wisdom (and our friends at Wine Folly) holds that anything featuring cilantro and lime is a slam-dunk with Vinho Verde, so bring the fish tacos, Pad Thai, ceviche, or cilantro-lime chicken, of which the internet is bursting with recipes. If more was needed to recommend this easy sipper, Vinho Verde is also super affordable, usually under $20.


Something Canadian


Ask a bunch of sommeliers to name the most versatile wine varietal, one that can pair harmoniously with just about any food, and chances are the words Gamay Noir will be spoken. This light-bodied, dry, and softly fruity red widely grown in Ontario’s Niagara region (as well as France’s Beaujolais and Loire Valley regions) is an absolute workhorse, a staple of rosé blends but also highly recommended as a stand-alone varietal. 

Pair With: Since picnic meals are often a hodgepodge of foods that are easy to transport and handle, from wraps to slaws to devilled eggs, Gamay Noir is a no-brainer and sure to complement whatever is served. Plus, while Gamay drinks well slightly chilled, it is also perfectly drinkable at room temperature. Win, win. 


Something Classic


Pinot Grigio is to summer what swimsuits are to beaches: essential, but not all created equal. This crisp, dry, light-as-air white wine — grown as Pinot Gris by French producers and, somewhat confusingly, grown and labelled as both in the New World — is among Italy’s most beloved exports. And of all the Pinot Grigios from Italy, Santa Margherita is among the most popular across Canada, from Quebec to B.C., its pale straw colour and soft peach and lemon notes making it dangerously easy drinking. It’s also affordable, hovering around the $20 mark. 

Pair With: Absolutely nothing pairs better with Pinot Grigio than that other summer staple: cold pasta salad, a dish with seemingly endless possible ingredients all showcasing summer’s bounty, from tomatoes to zucchini to snap peas. Liberate that dusty can of chickpeas from the pantry, add feta cheese, black olives, a handful of fresh herbs, some olive oil or premixed Italian salad dressing and two cups of cooked and chilled short pasta like tortellini, fusilli or penne, and you’re set. 

A version of this s tory was published on June  22, 2022.