Let’s have a picnic!

Summer is here! Summer is here!

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Well, okay, for the sticklers in the back of the room, the Summer Solstice is still almost three weeks off, on June 21. But it’s June already, and it’s hot. Memorial Day is just behind us and Independence Day is coming up fast.

So let’s have a picnic! Who’ll bring the wine? And, to the point of today’s conversation, does dining outdoors under the summer sun (or enjoying a similar cookout-style meal in comfortable air-conditioning) call for anything different in the way of wine?

I’m going to answer that with a definite “maybe.”

Maybe not: The most basic rule of wine, as I’ve often preached before, is “drink what you like.” If you want to bring a treasured bottle from your cellar to eat with hamburgers and hot dogs on a blanket in the park, you have an absolute right to do that. But …

Maybe yes: For most of us, the informal setting of a picnic and the call of tradition suggest something more casual on the picnic table. Hamburgers and hot dogs (or nowadays, their plant-based replicas) may be the stereotypical carnivorous choices, but fried chicken, cold cuts and bread, potato salad, pasta salad, chips and dips and salsa, and plenty of deviled eggs can all find their place at a picnic.

Burgers and hot dogs and wine, oh my! Image created by Dall-E 2, an AI system that creates realistic images and art from a description in natural language.

Burgers and hot dogs and wine, oh my! Image created by Dall-E 2, an AI system that creates realistic images and art from a description in natural language.

What kind of wine goes with all those goodies? I go back to the simple but decent wines from Europe or the New World that first gained my affection. When I remember enjoying a hearty, relatively simple Chianti from a wicker-wrapped bottle or a modest Zinfandel with pizza or pasta quite a few years ago, I can transfer that happy memory directly to a picnic meal or cookout.

Those bold if rustic wines stood up well against hearty flavors, and they do the same with the possibly distracting context of picnic fare and an outdoor setting. Something more fancy and complex, on the other hand, deserves the relative calm of a quiet dinner indoors, allowing us time to contemplate both the wine and the fare.

So what’s my pardon-the-expression pick for a picnic? Red wine calls my name, although I may offer some picnic whites and rosés another day. I’ve already mentioned Chianti, and this beloved Tuscan red – particularly at the affordable end of the range – remains a favored choice, even without the wicker bottle wrap. A decent red Côtes-du-Rhône will also do the trick, as will a Barbera or a Dolcetto from Northwestern Italy, or an affordable old-school vineyard-blend California Zinfandel.

Today’s featured wine, Domaine Lafage 2020 “La Rétro” from importer Eric Solomon, takes another step toward the rustic, homey, and nostalgic. It’s a field blend of Grenache (60%), Carignan (30%), Grenache Gris (7%), and the rarely seen Lladoner, a Grenache cousin (3%), all sustainably grown on 20- to 50-plus-year-old vines in the Cotes ,

La Rétro, as the importer describes it, is “unpretentious and joyful … a recreation of a style of wine from the last century.” That sounds right to me. This old-school French country red is perfect for a cookout or picnic. You’ll find my tasting report below.


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Today’s Tasting Report

Domaine Lafage 2020 “La Rétro” Côtes Catalanes “Les Années Folles” ($17.99/liter)

Domaine Lafage "La Rétro"

A rustic field blend of traditional grapes, Domaine Lafage 2020 “La Rétro” shows a pretty light-garnet color. Delicious scents of raspberries and strawberries and juicy ripe cherries whet your appetite for more. Cherry-berry fruit continues in the bright and dry flavor over a firm acidic foundation with light but persistent tannins gathering in the long finish. 12.5% alcohol. U.S. importer: European Cellars LLC, Charlotte, N.C., Eric Solomon Selections (May 31, 2023)

FOOD MATCH: As a dry, fruity, acidic and slightly tannic red, it would likely go where just about any simple but tasty red table wine would go: Red meat, certainly, but even better, burgers, sausages, pizza, hard cheeses, rustic bean dishes. And, of course, picnic and cookout fare!

WHEN TO DRINK: It’s made to enjoy now, but I see no reason to fear that it will go over the cliff during the next year or two. Buy it and enjoy it at your leisure.

Wine-Searcher.com shows an $14 average U.S. retail, for a 750 ml bottle, which roughly corresponds to my $17 tab for the one-liter bottle. Either way, it’s a good value and I’d gladly buy it again.

This loving reflection on La Rétro is on importer Eric Solomon’s page about the wine. Click “keep reading” on the first section to see it all. Here’s a link to a more detailed tech sheet.

Check prices and find vendors for Lafage “La Rétro” on Wine-Searcher.com.

Follow this Wine-Searcher link to read about Domaine Lafage and its wine maker Jean-Marc Lafage and browse retailers for the producer’s other wines.


Wine Focus June 2023 –
Benchmarks of Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc. What can we say? It’s one of the most famous grapes in the world. It’s certainly one of the big three white grapes, alongside Chardonnay and Riesling. It’s also quite easy to recognize in the glass, as it has some very distinctive characteristics, even if those shift depending on where the grapes are grown. Sauvignon Blanc from its ancestral home in the Loire is a very different wine from Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand. Is Cotat the benchmark, or is it now Cloudy Bay?

Lots to unpack regarding Sauvignon Blanc, and the weather is definitely white-wine friendly in the Northern Hemisphere right now. Grab a glass and join us in let’s talk Sauvignon Blanc.


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Good wines we’ve tried under $10.99!

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