When you want to give your standard picnic a new flavor, take a tip from the world's winegrowers.
Grape farmers have served delicious outdoor meals for millennia, first to feed hungry vineyard workers, now as much for marketing, to entertain journalists starved for fresh air and a story.
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Ross' choice"Gran Fuedo" Rosado
Ÿ Suggested retail and availability: $11 at wine and liquor shops (distributed by Enye Group, Chicago)
Navarra's rich, dry-ish Rosados (Roses) surprise palates accustomed to cotton-candy sweet "blush" wines. Produced from 100 percent Garnacha grapes, "Gran Feudo" is deep strawberry pink, with inviting berry aromas, a full palate of fruit and brown spice, and a delicately tannic finish. When it's too hot for red, but you want more substance than white wine to complement rich appetizers (whether pinxtos or Swedish meatballs), smoked and spicy dishes (including jamon serrano and Indian curry), the richest seafood and poultry (salmon or turkey) and light meats (even a filet), choose a Navarra Rosado, like "Gran Fuedo."
For your own vineyard-style picnic, you'll need a specialty grocer, a good wine retailer and a regional theme.
Having recently returned from northern Spain, I happily report there's no wine and food region that is more fun to explore than Navarra.
The cuisine ranges from linen tablecloth elegance to grab-n-go snacks. Navarra's wine echoes her cuisine and culture, including Reserva -- statuesque red wine, capable of great age and complexity; Tinto -- dynamic reds, ready to enjoy; refreshing, white Blanco; bubblies of various monikers; and Rosado -- the region's world-renown expression of rose.
Our next column will focus on Navarra's wine culture, but for now, pop a bottle of Blanco and welcome your guests to a vineyard-style picnic.
In place of deviled eggs and other cliched starters, serve two or three pinxtos (PEEN-chos), northern Spain's version of tapas. Pinxtos can be simple, like tortilla de patata (similar to an Italian frittata, but with potatoes) and brocheta de gambas (shrimp on a skewer), or more elegant like salmon con huevo y mayonesa (smoked salmon with egg and mayonnaise) -- but all designed for maximum flavor in one or two bites. (See tapasbonitas.com for recipes.)
Next, unveil a platter of jamon serrano (Spain's cured ham), idiazabal (Spain's sheep's milk cheese), roasted red peppers and small baguettes grilled and generously drizzled with olive oil. Guests can nosh at will or assemble their own ham and cheese sandwich, Navarra-style. Spanish olives are the classic accompaniment.
For the main course, barbecue pork ribs, lamb chops and lamb sausage -- whether hot or cold -- are Navarran staples.
Vineyard picnics have plenty of bottles open at once to sip and sample with each dish. You can start with the simply refreshing Vega Sindoa Viura-Chardonnay (about $10), the great-value Artazuri Tinto ($10), a vibrant and rich Garnacha with crushed raspberry and black pepper flavors; or Chivite Rosado (see Ross' Choice).
If guests want to BYO, encourage them to ask their retailer for wines from Navarra. It won't take many sips or bites until everyone is happy they began their own exploration.
• Contact Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.