(and what to wear!)
illustrations by F.J. Rocca
I love the ocean but remain firmly convinced that if any creationary deity had ever felt sand in his shorts, he’d never have created the beach. Besides, not only does sand get into body crevices that you never knew you had, it also gets into the sandwiches you packed for lunch. I’m all for texture in food, but I leave the true grit to the movies.
This is not to say that I don’t picnic. On the contrary, I grew up in the midwest where we had rivers and lakes lined with small boulders, and I am of the opinion that there is no better place to have a picnic than laying out on a sun-warmed rock. As far as I’m concerned, the only alternative to one of those elegant movie scenarios with imported cold-cuts, cheeses and champagne in cute little flutes, is cold fried chicken and a good bottle of wine. Of course, I have what in my humble opinion is the best recipe around for cold fried chicken.
2 lbs. chicken, cut in pieces
1 cup flour
1 cup corn oil
6 tablespoons of butter
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon powder
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
1 teaspoon marjoram leaves
Melt butter in a pan and mix with seasonings. Dip chicken pieces in spiced butter and then roll in flour. Heat oil in large skillet till very hot. Add chicken pieces and fry till browned on all sides and juices run clear when poked with a fork. Remove from pan and let drain on paper towel. When cooled, place in refrigerator overnight. (Don’t forget to take it with you when you load the picnic basket.)
So what wine should you take along on a picnic? First you must decide between sparkling, white, pink or red. Or you could just take one of each and drink yourself into a stupor. After all, we’re laying out on a rock like a lizard in the sun. Just to make it easy on us all, I’ve limited this selection to some of my favorite California wines.
On the inexpensive side, I recommend the Culbertson Brut from Thornton Winery. This is a bone dry, minerally sparkling wine that is perfect on a hot day. For those who do not mind shelling out a few extra bucks, Thornton also produces the 1985 Blanc de Blanc. Full-bodied and earthy with good fruit and acidity, this is a sparkler that stands on its own as well as with food. Thornton is not one of the better known wineries; but from what I’ve tasted, it deserves to be. Located in the Temecula Valley, they make some wonderful wines, sponsor an annual Champagne Jazz Series, and have an on-site top quality restaurant. I’m also particularly fond of the hard-to-obtain “Diva” from S. Anderson in Napa Valley. This specialty item is only produced in magnums (the perfect size for a picnic), has incredible depth and perfect balance and–given the quality when compared to top champagnes–is a bargain at $80-90 a bottle.
Among my favorite inexpensive California whites are the wines of Carmenet Winery. A member of the Chalone Wine Group, this Sonoma based winery produces wines that are fun and easy to drink. Of particular note are their Old Vines Colombard and their Reserve Meritage White. The first is made from a grape historically used for little more than blending into bulk wine or distilling into brandy. In the hands of Carmenet’s winemaker, however, something different is achieved–a delicious blend of strawberry and raspberry fruit with a touch of yeast and butter. The Meritage (a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon) tastes of a mix of orchard fruits with a touch of honey and beeswax–a can’t miss if you like a fuller-bodied wine. On the high end, I think I would have to go with Chardonnay from Sarah’s Vineyard, another little known winery located in the Hecker’s Pass area of Santa Clara County. Sarah’s exceptional Chardonnay is one of the finest that California produces. Ripe, rich fruit, well balanced with a lighter dose of oak, this wine will keep you happy until the sun goes down.
Two of my favorites from California are the Sanford Vin Gris, a rich, fruity rosé made from Pinot Noir and the Phelps Grenache Rosé, a dry, light, easy to drink pink. Neither are particularly expensive–but pink wines rarely are. Well-chilled, there’s nothing quite like good, dry rosé on a hot day in the sun. Sanford, in Santa Barbara, produces some of California’s best Pinot Noirs, and their rosé is no exception. Also, Joseph Phelps, better known for some stunning Cabernets, takes on the challenge of this difficult to control Rhône Valley varietal and comes up with a winner.
I recently put together a tasting of California Petite Sirahs. This grape, unrelated to the Syrah grape of the Rhône, is a mystery in itself. Lots of speculation and DNA testing (that makes the OJ trial look like a slow drive down the freeway) have resulted in a scholarly paper that attests to the fact that we haven’t a clue what Petite Sirah really is. A group of wine critics (of which I was one) tasted fourteen wines from eleven different wineries. For the most part, the results were surprisingly disappointing. The standouts of the tasting were the Field Stone “Staten Family Reserve,” tasting of dark fruit, cocoa and spice; and the Foppiano “Le Grande Anniversaire,” a smooth blend of dark fruit flavors, spice and sweet oak. Both wines, perhaps, best end our picnic day as the sun goes down and we want something with a little more body to keep us warm as we snuggle up on our rock.
Q San Francisco magazine premiered in late 1995 as a ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay lifestyle magazine targeted primarily for the San Francisco community. It was launched by my friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who had owned and run Genre magazine for several years prior. They asked me to come along as the food and wine geek, umm, editor, for this venture as well. In order to devote their time to Passport magazine, their newest venture, they ceased publication of QSF in early 2003.