Red, white & sparkling: Drinks to share and pair a picnic or barbecue

(written for the Los Altos Town Crier)

The Fourth of July can be the ideal opportunity to celebrate summer weather, friends, family and food. A month of lazy afternoons at Shoup Park, neighborhood block gatherings, days in the Davenport Beach sand and patio barbecues follow a holiday that is entirely about reveling in our commonalities.

My most poignant July 4th memories come from the Independence Day I spent in Washington, D.C. The day was muggy and the streets were crowded. After visiting the Lincoln, Washington and Vietnam memorials, D.C. natives advised that we’d be better off leaving the National Mall before the fireworks kicked off. Their local knowledge of the weather enabled them to accurately predict that it would soon start pouring buckets.

We ran happily through the rain and escaped to The Dubliner, an Irish pub at the base of a hotel. While not fancy, the spot suited us just fine.

The night was merry and the drinks were cold. At some point, there was an announcement that the rain had stopped and we could all go to the roof to glimpse the fireworks.

As we stood there watching the smoke from the pyrotechnics linger in the thick East Coast summer air, someone began singing “God Bless America.” Within seconds, the entire roof was involved. Through genuinely patriotic tears and painfully wide smiles, the collection of strangers on that roof knocked out a pretty decent rendition of the song. Our country can be the absolute best place in the world at times.

I plan on toasting all that I love about America throughout the entire month of July. Picnics with friends and evenings enjoying the Los Altos Summer Concert Series are high on my list. Whether you’re devoted to drinking white, red or sparkling wine, July is the perfect month to pull out a glass for your neighbors and toast what we have in common rather than focus on our individual varietal leanings.

I swung by Andronico’s at Rancho Shopping Center to consult with the market’s wine steward, Kristopher O’Rourke. He shared recommendations from the store’s recently revamped wine department to pair with the following picnic fare.

Quiche: O’Rourke recommended a 2013 David Bruce Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($39.99). Pomegranate and black cherries make for the perfect wine to drink alongside a mushroom and leek quiche.

“This wine would be great paired with cow’s milk cheese and cured beef, too,” he said.

Thai noodle salad: O’Rourke suggested pairing it with a 2014 J Pinot Gris ($16.99). Bright and melon-y, the wine is wonderful chilled and flexible enough to complement a variety of picnic dishes, including chicken salad sandwiches. The J Pinot Gris is a great go-to for the simplest picnic baskets – a fresh baguette, some Asiago cheese, aged prosciutto and a bunch of grapes.

Barbecue fare: According to O’Rourke, both Syrah and sparkling wine pair great with barbecued and grilled foods. Syrah is excellent with beef options, and sparkling wine ideal with chicken. If you’re offering a mixed menu, serve both for fun, please-everyone options.

He recommended two great California wines for that purpose. The nonvintage Chandon Brut Classic ($21.99) is a sparkler in a glass, with its fine chains of bubbles. Fresh and creamy on the palate, this sparkling wine will sparkle in your mouth, too. The 2013 Robert Hall Paso Robles Syrah ($16.99) is a super choice for barbecued beef. The wine holds up beside the most passionate barbecue recipes, thanks to its smoke and spice attributes.

O’Rourke’s favorite Chardonnay for fireworks and beyond is the 2014 Kali Hart ($19.99). The wine’s lush, tropical aromas and its citrus attributes on the palate make it great for summer parties.


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