How to picnic (properly)


Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

As we (finally) enter the season for al fresco dining, Katie Cooper – Manager of our Wine Club – recalls the pitfalls of picnics past and uses her experience to give you a guide to seamless outdoor feasting.

I’m not averse to a sandy sandwich or two. Dental implications aside, they recall childhood memories of picnics at the coast, in particular trudging up French beaches in the blazing August sun, laden with cool boxes full of delicious French fare, chilled Orangina and the omnipresent parasol for the benefit of my fair-skinned sister. Lured on by a father who always insisted it was worth going ‘just a bit further’ to find the perfect spot, our objective was to settle a satisfactory distance from other families (thus avoiding noisy children) and by consequence, far from the car (not so good when you’re the one carrying the parasol). Year on year, we would refine the ‘picnic pack’ to lighten the load and so the skills gathered at a tender age have set me in good stead for efficient picnicking in adulthood.

Keep it simple. Homemade quiche, sausage rolls and Scotch eggs are infinitely superior to shop-bought versions and are sure-fire crowd pleasers. If you’re feeling more adventurous, a couple of simple, tasty dishes done well are always more impressive – not to mention easier – than elaborate concoctions which, inevitably, never turn out like they would at home. Try pairing pre-steamed asparagus with chopped, hard-boiled egg and caviar if you are feeling decadent; or butter brown bread at home and then layer with smoked salmon and dill mustard. Make a couscous salad packed with roasted vegetables and crumbled feta in advance; a lemony dressing transported in a jar can be poured over in situ.

Raid the farm shop or deli counter for tasty pork pies, chicken satay sticks or pâté, all of which perform well at ambient temperature and require no preparation. Runny cheese is a no-no, as is easily bruised fruit; choose Comté and crunchy apples instead, with some crusty bread as the carrier.

Picnic crockery and cutlery, in a smart wicker basket, will give you the best experience but if you have distance to cover to reach your intended spot, pick disposable plates and forks which will be lighter and can be thrown away before the return trek to the car. Don’t compromise on glassware or ice though. White wine, rosé and Champagne should be properly chilled and will be much more gratifying drunk from a real glass. A makeshift ice bucket can be crafted from a well-insulated wine carrier filled with deep frozen ice for staying power. Don’t forget a corkscrew with a small knife for opening packets/cutting fruit. Freeze bottled soft drinks in advance and use as ice packs to chill the food – as they thaw, you can drink them mid-afternoon. A plastic bag for rubbish is essential.

Choose wine carefully. The sheer variety of picnic food creates a minefield for wine matching. Riesling or dry Sherry make refreshing apéritifs and Champagne is always popular for celebrations. Sauvignon Blanc will enhance asparagus and salmon dishes and its grassy, fresh vibrancy is welcome on a hot day. For reds, Beaujolais is light enough to enjoy with cold cuts or various salads and can be served slightly chilled or not. You could also pack a bottle of gin and some tonic water, a few slices of lime or cucumber, and siphon off some of the ice cubes into a sandwich bag to complete the experience. If the weather looks questionable, a flask of piping hot tea and a homemade cake will raise spirits more than a dozen sandy sandwiches.

Explore our range of wines for the summer season on