Summer Wines (and not a bar-b-que or rosé in sight)

Summer is on its way! From tomorrow in the UK, larger events will be permissable albeit at lower capacity in line with safety guidelines. Whether you’ll be attending a summer event in person or enjoying the moment from your own garden, the social season is the perfect opportunity to set up the picnic table, dress up for the occasion and crack open a bottle or two of delicious wine. More than ever it feels important to make the most of the freedom of warmer days and longer evenings. It’s been a long, cold covid winter so take time out to relax and bask in the warmth of the sun, as well as friends and family.

Outdoor summer calendar

Le Picque-nique

Picnics are special events whether planned or spur of the moment, eaten indoors or out in the fresh air, and whatever the weather… just be prepared for showers and pack blankets for chilly evenings. I’ve been trying some delicious Italian wines recently with al fresco dining in mind. Browsing through my vintage cookery books I’ve chosen some dishes to prepare for an elegant meal to take to Wimbledon or Glyndebourne. If you haven’t been lucky enough to secure tickets simply set up in the garden at home, or your favourite green location, for a pre-match or opera celebration (and without the hassle of driving and parking!).

” Picnics bring out the romantic in me. Childhood memories include exploring on my bike and picnics of squashed jam sandwiches and a bottle of orange squash.” @hashtagtravelin

Al fresco eating should be enjoyable and simple, for the cook as well as the guests. Neither of the courses featured below are very complex. The last thing you need in summer is to slave over a hot stove, or get bogged down in all the paraphernalia for a bar-b-que.


Francone Antichi Poderi Dei Gallina Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2020.

Francone Antichi Poderi Dei Gallina Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2020 is the definition of a lazy summer outdoors. It has all the qualities; a pretty pale lemon colour; a fresh sweetness; and medium acidity for a little frisson. This light Italian sparkling wine is full of the sweet flavours of Muscat grapes and aromas of pear and blossom. It reminded me of the colourful pear drops I recall from childhood. The low alcohol content means it is perfect for sunny days and as an apéritif. The pronounced aromatic flavours on the palate continue with a satisfying lingering finish. The sparkle is all natural and the wine has a delightful mousse without being too effervescent. The aim here is for a pleasing teaser to delicious food, not a Grand Prix victory spray. Francone Antichi Poderi Dei Gallina Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2020 at Independent Wine, £16.11. Free next day delivery to the UK mainland.

Stay: Find out more about fine Italian wines from the Piemonte region, where to stay and more… Italian wines: How to source and enjoy UK-exclusive Piedmont wines.

The recipes below for a starter and main course can be made in advance and are easily transportable, not too wet or complicated. Serve food on your prettiest china for style and sustainability, or eco-friendly disposable plates if these are more suited to an on-location picnic. Linens napkins are the most luxurious option and make a simple meal feel special and, of course, they’re washable. Otherwise, attractive paper napkins are a must to avoid spills and sticky fingers.

Avocado With Vinaigrette Dressing

Avocado With Vinaigrette Dressing, The Sainsbury’s Book of Wholefood Cooking (1986).

Ingredients. 2 avocado pears, 125g (4oz) frozen peeled prawns, thawed, 4 tablespoons Vinaigrette Dressing.

Method: Halve the pears and remove the stones. Scoop out the flesh and cut into neat pieces. Place in a bowl with the prawns and dressing.

Mix together carefully and spoon into individual serving dishes. Serve with wholemeal bread and butter. Serves 4.

For the Vinaigrette Dressing shake together in a screw-topped glass jar: 170 ml (6 fl oz) olive oil; 4 tablespoons cider vinegar; 1 teaspoon clear honey; 1 clove garlic, crushed; 2 tablespoons chopped mixed herbs; and salt and pepper. Make sure the avocado is well covered in dressing to minimise discolouration.

Tip: Buy the very best quality prawns you can find as they’re the star of this simple dish. Try packing the starter in individual portions in attractive or decorated screw-top glass jars.

Main course

Fratelli Pardi Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG 2016.

Fratelli Pardi, Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG, 2016 is a Big wine with a capital B. In terms of both tannins and flavour it’s an intensely bold red. Decanting for a few hours is advised before drinking although I found this didn’t make a significant difference. Ageing in the bottle is also recommended with opinions ranging from between 10 to 30 years. When it comes to health benefits not all reds are equal and this one is rich in polyphenols.

The ancient Sagrantino grape is the most tannic red in Italy and the dryness, bitter and astringent intensity in the mouth was a little shocking at first sip. It needs food to bring out its qualities and partnered beautifully with a beef casserole. Montefalco Sagrantino is earthy and immediately evoked a Barolo. Think wild truffles, dark berries and smoky bonfires, as well as chocolate, perfect with dishes prepared say with autumnal mushrooms. This isn’t a wine for quaffing but for summer drinking it will match well with wild game like the venison dish below, where the tannins will cut through the richness of the meat. Award-winning Fratelli Pardi, Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG, 2016 at Independent Wine, £26.07. Free next day delivery to the UK mainland.

Venison Loaf

Venison Loaf. The Best of Sainsbury’s Wholefood Cooking (1986).

Ingredients. 250g (8oz) streaky bacon, derinded; 625g (1¼lb) pie venison, minced; salt and pepper; 1 egg, beaten; 250g (8oz) fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs; finely grated or shredded rind of 1 lemon; 25g (1oz) parsley, coarsely chopped; 75g (3oz) stoned black olives.

Method: Line the base and sides of a 500g (1lb) loaf tin with bacon rashers, stretching them to fit if necessary; chop the remainder and set aside.

Place the venison in a bowl, season with salt and peppr to taste and bind with half the egg. Spread half this mixture over the bacon.

Mix the breadcrumbs, remaining egg, lemon rind, parsley and chopped bacon together and spread half on top of the venison. Press the olives into the mixture. Spread the remaining venison over the top and cover with the remaining breadcrumb mixture.

Cover loosely with foil and bake in a preheated moderately hot oven 190 deg C (375 deg F) Gas Mark 5, for 1 hour. Allow to stand for 3 to 4 minutes, then pour off and reserve the juices. Turn out the terrine onto a serving dish and serve sliced. Serves 4.

This deceptively simple dish just needs a crisp, fresh salad and some classic French bread to accompany. Adding steamed Jersey Royals dressed with butter and chopped fresh parsley would make for a more substantial dish.

Tips: Try substituting pickled prunes for the olives for variation. If you can’t find venison at your local supermarket, butcher or farm shop order from a specialist online. Be sure to use an unwaxed lemon.

P.S. The recipe doesn’t offer suggestions for using up the reserved ‘juices’. Good to add to a gravy although not relevant here. Any thoughts, share your ideas in the comments.


While I wouldn’t suggest a dessert wine for a picnic (it’s too excessive) a piping hot, single-estate fresh coffee from a flask would be an elegant finish to the meal. In the spirit of keeping things simple, handing round a selection of previously purchased artisan-made sweets such as fudge, marshmallow or macaroons would be perfectly acceptable. It’s very remiss that the average high street in the UK lacks the sophisticated pattisseries that you find everywhere in Italy or France. Jack & Beyond makes the most wonderful sweet treats to order online, details in a previous post This Week…Edible gifts.

For those who prefer a ‘proper pudding’ however these little chocolate nut cakes are easy to make in advance, are gluten-free, and travel well. Serve with fresh strawberries and a drizzle of pouring cream.

Frustrated with constantly converting US cups into grams or Imperial ounces (used in many vintage cook books) I bought a set of pretty china measuring cups from a well-known department store and haven’t looked back. This vintage recipe has developed from an obscure magazine cutting and by instinct, so very much the ‘chuck it in and see’ method. You might like try the recipe in advance to perfect the cakes to your tastebuds.

Ingredients. 2 cups of either almond flour or mixed nut flour; 1 heaped tbsp raw cacao powder; 1 tsp of baking powder (gluten-free if that’s a deal-breaker for you); 1 tbsp of coconut nectar (‘sugar’); two tablespoons of melted coconut oil, cooled; 2 beaten eggs, separated; a splash of milk (any); half a cup of chocolate drops.*

Method: Whizz together in the food processor briefly all the ingredients, except the egg whites and the chocolate drops, until smooth. Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until they form soft peaks before folding into the cake mixture (start with one tablespoon to slacken it off, then add the rest). Gently fold in the chocolate. Spoon into cupcake cases, bake at around 180 deg to 190 deg C for 18 – 20 minutes.

Tip: *Recently I discovered Montezumas 100% Absolute Black buttons which work beautifully here. Cake always taste better straight from the oven but these freeze well.

Enjoy your summer picnics! Post your photos and tag me @hashtagtravelin on Twitter or Instagram for a re-post.

Independent Wines are one of the UK’s leading Italian wine specialists and receiving an order is the next best thing to actually visiting the vineyard in person.

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