Euro 2012 is still an on-going battle in Eastern Europe but our traditional English sporting summer gets under way next week. Wall-to-wall Wimbledon for the next fortnight is always a treat although if the wet weather continues you might need to steel yourself for another sing-along from Sir Cliff.
If you are heading south to watch then you could stay another day and take in the rowing at Henley from Wednesday onwards. This is one of my favourite summer events, and while tickets to the Stewards’ enclosure are difficult to find, there is lot of fun to be had in picnicking on the grass and watching teams of well-honed co-ordinated muscle race by.
Whatever the weather, these next couple of weeks show that there is always a need for a good picnic and sunshine drinking.
Even if your sporting participation involves no more than shifting the TV so you can see it from the comfort of a chair in the garden, a glass of something good adds enormously to the occasion.
Preparing for Wimbledon is an art in itself, bearing in mind the possibilities of hot sunshine and torrential rain, all in the same day. You won’t be allowed to take in a big picnic box so use a squashy insulated bag and be careful of your wine choices too. The rules allow for one bottle of wine or two cans of beer per person and the people on the gate are not that keen on corkscrews, so select bottles that are screwcapped or fizzy. Glass is also an issue so take ‘plastics’ but not those flimsy lightweight ones that will blow over.
No matter how many times I see other people sitting down to grand picnics that involve table and chairs, plates and cutlery with a feast of food and occasionally a whole salmon, I never seem to have enough time to do more than provide some good sandwiches with strawberries to follow. Even so a good glass of wine seems to rebalance my culinary deficiencies and contribute to a great day out.
Rosé always does well at a picnic, and I love the delicate, elegant flavours of Domaine Begude Pinot Rosé 2011 (screwcap) from the cool hills of Limoux in Southern France. This summer it hasn’t joined the usual multibuy promotion so it is still priced at £8.99 (Majestic) but this is a Sancerre Rosé look-alike so that price is still good value.
I also enjoyed Domaine La Chautarde 2011 (screwcap) from Côteaux Varois en Provence (Majestic down from £8.99 to £6.99 on multibuy) for its delicate watermelon and nectarine flavours backed by a silky texture that makes it very food friendly. From further west in Côteaux Aix en Provence Château Pigoudet ‘La Chapelle’ Rosé 2011 (Majestic down to £8.99 on multibuy) is still delicate but has more strawberry perfume with the taste of ripe cherries and a fresh, yet aromatic finish.
If yours is the table and chairs with a spread of salads and salmon then head to Majestic and a magnum of AIX Rosé 2011 from Côteaux d’Aix en Provence to show that you have definitely won the picnic-in-style competition. These last two wines are closed with corks so are more suitable for garden sipping or for Henley where they don’t seem to worry about corkscrews.
At the Waitrose tasting I came across Phaedra Xynomavro Rosé 2011 (£8.99, cork) from Macedonia in Greece which is just making its way into larger Waitrose stores. To be honest I have not been much of a fan of Greek wines but I’ll make an exception for this because of its light, herb-dusted raspberry fruit with a snappy, dry finish and enough weight to partner a whole range of mezze.
I also loved Muga Rosado 2011 Rioja from Spain (£9.49, Waitrose, cork) which combines watermelon and tropical fruit flavours with a crisp, citrus background and enough weight to partner tapenade and jamón.
El Guia Rosado 2011 from Utiel Requena (£3.99 Waitrose, screwcap) is one of the best-value rosés I tasted this season. Think of cutting into a summer berry pudding and you have some idea of the intensity of fruit flavours in this wine and it is perfectly good enough for informal, rug-on-the-grass style of picnics.
Also great value is Gran Tesoro Garnacha Rose 2011 (£4.49 Tesco, screwcap) which does have an edge of sweetness but that just makes its red-berry fruit more versatile to cope with spice, salads and even strawberries.
For significantly more impact and flavour choose Tesco Finest Touriga Nacional Rosé 2010 (currently down to £5.99, screwcap) which is more suited to chilling down and drinking on its own or for pairing with rare roast beef or even a sesame spiced salad. Packed with ripe juicy raspberry fruit, it is a lively refreshing wine that oozes sunshine, even in the rain.
Should our players or rowers come close to winning anything then a glass of English fizz is called for.
Tesco has Chapel Down Classic Cuvée English Sparkling Wine down from £21.99 to £16.99 and you don’t need a corkscrew to open this light, clean, apples and pears style fizz, with a hint of toast and a long balanced finish. Buy a few bottles so you can raise a glass whenever Team GB wins a medal at the Olympics.
Always make sure your bottle is well-chilled before you set off and take advantage of any opportunity to keep bottles cool during the day. It is traditional to have a tent peg and a piece of string so you can float your bottles in the Thames at Henley but make sure they are absolutely water tight. Fill glasses just half full so they can be topped up rather than get warm and stand open bottles out of the sunshine.
Of course with our unpredictable weather you should always leave your options open. A warm coat and a flask of tea might just come in handy too.