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Is that a bottle in your basket?

Enjoying wine in the great outdoors


Winter's over and it's time to rush outside and sprawl out under a tree. Add a soft blanket, a good friend and a bottle of light wine and you have the ingredients for a picnic. Outdoor movies, concerts and fireworks are perfect excuses to dine under the canopy of the clouds. Wine completes the picture, but choose simple wines you don't have to analyze or swish.

It's best to chill the wine before packing your picnic. Forget the archaic tales of drinking only room temperature red wines -- it's perfectly fine to refrigerate reds, as long as you don't forget them in the freezer or something. Same thing goes for whites, which lose their flavor when they're too cold. For keeping wines temperate during the journey to the perfect picnic spot, there's a cool gadget called Vacu Vin Rapid Ice Wine Chiller. This handy frozen girdle fits around a wine bottle and keeps it chilled for up to two hours when kept in a cooler. It comes in several funky designs, refreezes easily and costs around $10.

When choosing your picnic wine, keep the wine uncomplicated and fun, rather than tannic-laden, acerbic or buttery, which might mask lighter picnic fare like salads and roast chicken. If you're having red meat, reach for a chilled Pinot Noir or fruitier Red Zinfandel. Hotter days call for Sauvignon Blanc, and if you're serving up spicy foods, add a slightly sweet Riesling to your basket. For added ease, and to avoid lugging and hassling with a corkscrew, select a bottle from a winery that now uses Stelvin screwtops (a great conversational piece), or grab a bottle of bubbly.

So if you're headed to the beach, the mountains or a secluded spot next to a cool river, spread out some light bites, grab glasses and go at it. Summer heat is here whether you like it or not, so you might as well maximize the great outdoors.

Recommended Wines

Pierre Sparr 2001 Pinot Blanc Reserve ($12) : From the German-speaking region of France called Alsace, this crowd-pleasing, humble white wine speaks volumes in clean flavor. Minerally and dripping with citrus. Perfect for sipping.

Omaka Springs 2002 Sauvignon Blanc ($15) : From a small New Zealand producer comes a fantastically refreshing wine. Smacks of peaches, fresh mown grass and has an elegant lingering finish.

Cellar No. 8 2000 Zinfandel ($11) : Like tasting a fresh raspberry as it bursts in your mouth. Follows up with a dash of black pepper. A beautifully complex wine, and fantastic deal.

Big Fire 2001 Pinot Gris ($11): Extremely cool wine. Coats the tongue with flavors like honeydew melon, lemon and a touch of honey. Nice, balanced acids that provide a sexy, intimate mouthfeel.

The Crossings 2002 Sauvignon Blanc ($16) : Pure, refreshing acidity in this New Zealand juice -- a perfect example of a grape they do so well. It's got passion fruit, kiwi and citrus to boot. This veritable fruit salad would go wonderfully with a seafood salad.

Murphy Goode 2000 The Deuce Sauvignon Blanc ($24) : OK, I love Sauvignon Blanc and drink lots of it. This is a different style of that grape, with bigger, meatier flavors like butterscotch, toasted almonds and vanilla. Worth the extra bucks.

Novella Synergy Paso Robles ($14) :This non-vintage blend of Zinfandel, Petite Syrah and Sangiovese absolutely rocks. Juicy raspberry has some tannic backbone but begs for food. Grilled chicken (or even fried) would easily make friends with this balanced red wine that's smooth enough for Chardonnay drinkers.

Wallace Brook Cellars 2001 Pinot Noir ($10) :Dark cherry fruit, with a light hint of raisins. A funky hair spray aroma when you first pour it, but it blows off. An unusual Pinot, to say the least, but great stuff for the price.

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