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The Feast: How to Fill a Picnic Basket

The team at Flight Wine Bar in Washington, D.C., offers recipes to tote to the park; plus nine value whites, rosés and reds to enjoy alongside
The pork sandwich shines against a diverse trio of wines, from a palate-cleansing rosé to a nutty, aged white to a spice-enhancing red.
Photo by: Scott Suchman
The pork sandwich shines against a diverse trio of wines, from a palate-cleansing rosé to a nutty, aged white to a spice-enhancing red.

Hilary Sims
Posted: June 26, 2018

Cooking for a crowd? "The Feast" turns to ace chefs—who better to advise on feeding the whole crew?—for recipes, prep advice and, of course, wine pairings. Plus, we'll give you nine value wines recommended by our editors. Get ready: It's time to feast!

Picnic season is upon us—and with it, plenty of opinions on what you should take along as your picnic wine. There are the rosé die-hards, the canned-wine advocates, the blue-chip bringers (can we come?) and so many more.

Swati Bose and Kabir Amir, wife-and-husband co-owners of Flight Wine Bar in Washington, D.C., prefer not to limit themselves to one “perfect” pairing. Instead, they take a triadic approach. “I think it’s interesting to try three different wines with each of the different food items and see how they change with the wines,” Bose says.

This is one of the central ideas behind Flight. The wine bar, which holds a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence, offers an eclectic 500-plus-selection list, focused on three-glass flights organized around a theme such as geography, flavor, style or variety. For example, “All the Better to Smell You With!” highlights aromatic whites—German Riesling, Loire Valley Chenin Blanc and a blend of Xarel-lo, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer from Spain’s Penedès region—while “I Like Oak and I Cannot Lie” features an offbeat range of oaked reds: Tempranillo from Spain’s Ribera del Duero, a Bordeaux-style blend from Virginia and a Prokupac from Serbia.

For an alfresco Feast, Bose, Amir and Flight executive chef Jim Barton suggest packing your picnic basket with scrumptious bites like a Roast Pork, Swiss Cheese and Pickle Sandwich on a Baguette; Ricotta, Beet, Carrot and Fennel Salad; and Strawberry Vanilla Trifle. Each can be prepared progressively in the week preceding your picnic.

To drink, they have pulled a white, a rosé and a red from their list, each between $20 and $30, that get along splendidly with the menu—each in its own particular way. (For more options, we’ve provided a list of nine other value wines.)

Picnic fare should be uncomplicated. To that end, “Who doesn’t like a sandwich?” asks Barton. He’s a fan of roasting meat on Sundays to repurpose later in the week, which is how he hit on this classically pleasing pork sandwich. Roast the pork up to five days in advance; Barton recommends leaving it unsliced and double-wrapping it in plastic to keep the roast as moist as possible leading up to your party. “Sliced meat will oxidize much faster, because there’s more surface area,” he explains.

And don’t even think about tossing the roasting juices; they’ll come in handy later. “The worst part of a sandwich is when the bread is dry,” Barton laments. His solution is to assemble the sandwiches the day before he plans to eat them. “If you let it sit together, and especially if you use the roasting juice and some of the pickle juice on the bread to sog it up a little bit, when you reheat that in the oven, you’re gonna crisp the outside so it still has a nice crunch and it’s not going to fall apart, but it’s kind of soft [in the middle] and you can bite through it,” he says.

Scott Suchman
The elements of the ricotta, beet and carrot salad can be prepped ahead of time and then assembled at your picnic site.

Barton’s salad of ricotta, beets, carrots, fennel and basil is delicate and complex; if this one sounds like restaurant food, that’s because it is. However, it’s sneaky-easy to make at home.

Barton recommends draining the ricotta overnight, particularly if it looks watery. “There’s a lot of leftover whey that sits in ricotta,” he explains. “So if you drain it overnight, the texture completely changes. You’re left with more of the cheese. It’s much denser, in a pleasant way, a good way, which makes it taste a lot better.”

In order to avoid beet juice bleed in your beautifully creamy finished ricotta, you may want to wait to assemble the salad on-site at your picnic. Be sure everything is well-wrapped when you pack it up: “Beet juice doesn’t really come out of much,” Barton warns, with the laugh of one who has learned the hard way.

For dessert, sure, you could buy cookies and call it a day, but Barton’s trifle bursts with summer fruit flavors and the featherlight texture of whipped cream—well worth just a little more effort than a trip to the bakery.

“It’s really easy to take from point A to point B with no real hassle,” Barton says of the dish, which you can make a day or two ahead of time. “The flavors permeate each other, and it does kind of get better.” The dish is essentially foolproof, he promises: “As long as you have quality fruit, the trifle is gonna be good.”

Comprising an aged white Rioja, a Sancerre rosé and a Blaufränkisch, the Old World flight is a diverse bunch. But, Bose notes, all three are versatile and food-friendly. “The Gravonia is one of my all-time favorite wines,” she says of the R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rioja White Viña Gravonia Crianza 2008. Held back from release for 10 years after the vintage date, “It’s a really unique flavor profile: It’s nutty, super-complex, and it’s got a lot of character because it’s fermented and aged in barrel.”

For more readily available alternatives, consider a lively, wallet-friendly, current-release Spanish white, such as the Verdejo- and Macabeo-based options below. These youthful versions are naturally fruitier and lighter than the Gravonia, but their clean, smooth texture helps them meld gracefully with the mellow pork.

The Pascal & Nicolas Reverdy Sancerre Rosé Terre de Maimbray 2017 is a delicate, crisp style, with dried cherry and rose petal notes. “It has this really great Pinot Noir flavor; it has a lot of minerality,” Bose observes. And the Moric Blaufränkisch Qualitätswein Trocken Burgenland Reserve 2011, from Austria, is a savory red from a grape indigenous to Central Europe. “You get a lot of earth and spice in it,” she says.

Blaufränkisch (also known as Lemberger) can be tricky to find in some parts of the U.S.; for a substitute, try a cool-climate Pinot Noir or Mencía, a food-friendly Spanish red that is becoming more readily available here. Mencía has some similarities to Blaufränkisch, with a light to medium body, herbaceous and spicy notes, and cherry and berry fruit flavors. For a few ideas from Bierzo, a prime appellation for Mencía in northwestern Spain, see our picks below.

Of the overall wine lineup, Bose notes, “None of them will overpower the food,” but each will bring out different qualities. “For example, if you take the pork sandwich, the rosé pairs nicely with it because it’s crisp, clean, and it almost works as a palate refresher. The Blaufränkisch, I think, brings out interesting spice flavors in the pork sandwich that can be missed with the [rosé]. And then the Gravonia just adds a completely different flavor profile, where it gives it a roundness and a creaminess.”

Break out the blanket, round up your Tupperware and let the picnicking commence.

Roast Pork, Swiss Cheese and Pickle Sandwich on a Baguette

  • One 4-pound boneless pork loin
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 French baguettes
  • 1 small jar Dijon mustard (you may have some left over)
  • 1/2 pound Swiss cheese, sliced
  • One 16-ounce jar bread and butter pickles

1. Season the pork generously with salt, pepper and lemon zest, and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

2. Preheat oven to 275° F. Roast the pork until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the meat reads 130° F to 135° F for medium, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Raise the temperature to 425° F to brown the pork, a few minutes more. Remove from the oven and let rest for at least 15 minutes, tented with foil. Make ahead: Pork will keep, unsliced and well-wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator, for up to 5 days.

3. When ready to make sandwiches, preheat oven to 350° F. Thinly slice the pork against the grain. Cut the baguettes in half lengthwise and lightly toast in the oven, flipping once, so both sides are lightly browned and crisp. Transfer to a cutting board. Evenly spread the mustard on both sides of the bread. Layer with cheese, pork and pickles. (Pro tip: Drizzle the pork with pickle juice and pork drippings to flavor the meat and keep it moist). Cut the assembled sandwiches into 4 sections each and wrap tightly with aluminum foil. Make ahead: Sandwiches will keep, tightly wrapped in the refrigerator, for up to 1 day. Reheat in the oven at 350° F for 10 minutes to slightly melt the cheese. Keep wrapped until ready to eat. Yields 12 small sandwiches.

Ricotta, Beet, Carrot and Fennel Salad

  • 2 pounds ricotta cheese
  • Salt
  • Ground nutmeg
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 pounds beets
  • 1 bunch thyme sprigs
  • 1 bunch rosemary sprigs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch baby heirloom carrots, or other seasonal carrots
  • 1 bulb fennel
  • Basil leaves, for finishing
  • Honey, for drizzling
  • Juice of 1 lemon

1. Place the ricotta in a fine-mesh sieve or a cheesecloth-lined colander set over a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, transfer to the refrigerator and let drain overnight. The next day, transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding any accumulated liquid. Season to taste with salt, nutmeg and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil. Mix thoroughly to combine. Make ahead: Seasoned ricotta will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

2. Preheat the oven to 450° F. Wash the beets and pat them dry. Place the beets, thyme, rosemary and bay leaves in a foil-lined roasting pan. Season with salt. Add enough water just to cover the bottom of the pan to create some steam. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil, and transfer to oven. Roast the beets until tender; a small knife inserted into a beet should slide in with very little resistance, about 45 minutes for small beets (baseball size), or 1 1/2 hours for large beets (softball size).

3. While the beets are roasting, prepare the carrots. Remove and discard the green tops. Wash the carrots and scrub them with a paper towel to remove excess dirt. Pat dry. If desired, reserve 1 carrot for slicing raw on top of the salad. Place remaining carrots on a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

4. Remove beets from oven and keep covered tightly with foil. Transfer carrots to oven and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned. While carrots are roasting, let beets sit, covered, for 10 minutes to steam. This will make them easier to peel. Using paper towels, gently rub away the skin. Cut beets into bite-sized pieces and set aside. Leave roasted carrots whole. Make ahead: Beets and carrots will keep, covered in the refrigerator, for up to 2 days.

5. The day of your party, slice off and discard the fennel’s fronds and root. Wash fennel and pat dry. Using a mandolin or a very sharp knife, slice very thinly. Set aside.

6. Just before serving, assemble the salad. Place the ricotta in a smooth, even layer on a serving platter. Top with an even layer of beets. Spoon the honey lightly over the beets, then evenly disperse the roasted carrots on top, and arrange the shaved fennel over the carrots. If you’ve reserved a raw carrot for garnish, shave it into thin coins and scatter over. Scatter whole basil leaves on top. Season the entire dish with freshly squeezed lemon, salt and pepper, and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Serves 12.

Strawberry Vanilla Trifle

  • 1 box vanilla cake mix
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh strawberries
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 4 cups heavy cream

1. At least 3 hours before you plan to assemble and chill the trifle, follow the instructions on the cake mix box to bake the cake. Let cool, then cut into roughly uniform bite-size pieces.

2. Wash and dry the strawberries. Halve or quarter the strawberries and place in an even layer on a rimmed plate. Lightly coat with the granulated sugar and set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the confectioners’ sugar with the heavy cream. Whip to soft, not quite stiff, peaks.

4. In a serving bowl, add a layer of cake pieces just to coat the bottom. Spoon some fruit and some of its liquid around and over the pieces of cake. Cover with a layer of whipped cream. Repeat until you have filled the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and chill. Make ahead: Trifle will keep, well-wrapped in the refrigerator, for up to 2 days.

9 Recommended Value Wines

The following list is a selection of very good whites and light reds from Spain, as well as French rosés from the Loire Valley, Provence and Corsica. Additional recently rated wines can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.

Juicy Spanish Whites

BODEGAS BERONIA Verdejo Rueda 2017 Score: 88 | $13
Pear and melon flavors are accented by light herbal and waxy notes in this lively white. Firm acidity focuses the generous texture. The juicy finish brings you back for another sip. Drink now through 2021. 3,000 cases imported.—Thomas Matthews

BODEGAS BORSAO Macabeo-Chardonnay Campo de Borja 2016 Score: 87 | $8
This lively white delivers fresh flavors of pear, peach and citrus, while herbal notes add interest. Clean and focused. Drink now through 2020. 5,500 cases imported.—T.M.

DOMINIO DE EGUREN Viño de la Tierra de Castilla White Protocolo 2016 Score: 87 | $8
This fragrant white offers floral, white peach and tangerine notes. Bright fruit and juicy acidity keeps this lively and refreshing. Features a smooth texture and a clean finish. Macabeo and Airén. Drink now through 2021. 10,000 cases imported.—T.M.

French Rosés

HENRI BOURGEOIS Pinot Noir Vin de Pays du Val de Loire Rosé Petit Bourgeois 2017 Score: 88 | $14
Fresh, with a notable savory streak amid the white cherry and peach flavors. A light stony echo adds zing on the finish. Drink now. 1,500 cases imported.—James Molesworth

LE TREMBLÉ Coteaux Varois en Provence Rosé 2017 Score: 88 | $15 / 1L
Creamy in feel, with light-bodied peach and mango notes laced with a subtle wet stone thread. Reveals a flash of savory at the very end. Well done. Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. Drink now. 5,000 cases imported.—J.M.

DOMAINE VETRICCIE Corse Rosé 2017 Score: 87 | $20
Very fresh, with nice zing to the white cherry, watermelon and rose water notes, showing a focused finish. Drink now. 3,600 cases imported.—J.M.

Light Spanish Reds

BODEGAS Y VIÑEDOS LUNA BEBERIDE Mencía Bierzo 2016 Score: 88 | $17
This supple red is focused and lively, offering fresh flavors of cherry and strawberry backed by hints of vanilla, with leafy and minty notes. Fresh, citrusy acidity and light tannins give this structure. Drink now through 2022. 450 cases imported.—T.M.

GODELIA Mencía Bierzo Viernes 2016 Score: 87 | $13
This red balances red fruit and light vanilla flavors with more savory notes of clove, dried herb and smoke. Tangy balsamic acidity and light tannins give this focus. Shows a light, refreshing bitterness on the finish. Drink now. 1,000 cases imported.—T.M.

BODEGAS Y VIÑEDOS MERAYO Mencía Bierzo Las Tres Filas 2016 Score: 87 | $20
Polished and smooth, this red offers black cherry, licorice and vanilla flavors, with leafy notes, backed by light, firm tannins and gentle acidity. Not exuberant but harmonious. Drink now through 2020. 1,500 cases imported.—T.M.

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