How to choose picnic wines to please a crowd

It struck me the other day how strange it is that we say to friends we’re having round for dinner, “Is there anything you can’t eat?” yet we rarely ask them if there’s anything they don’t drink. Or even if they’re drinking alcohol at all, unless we know they’re temporarily or permanently on the wagon. Few would volunteer it, either. They might tell you they don’t eat meat, but would they say: “By the way, I don’t drink red wine”, or: “Is that wine suitable for vegans?”

In most households, of course, the choice of food will come first, but when you’re picking a wine to go with it, it may be something you want to think about more. Unless I know my guests well, I tend to be slightly more conservative about my wine choices, picking wines that I know are crowdpleasers, rather than obscure finds about which I might be newly enthusiastic. For instance, I know that, while I like light reds, most of my red-wine-loving friends would rather have a more full-bodied one, and that quite a few would rather have a glass of prosecco than a pet nat (a semi-sparkling natural wine that isn’t half as sweet).

I’m not saying we should pander to our guests – after all, everyone cooks things they like – but rather to be a bit thoughtful, in much the same way as you wouldn’t put goat’s cheese in a salad, for example, or make aubergines a major feature of a meal if you know a friend can’t stand them. Of course, there’s always the possibility that, although they may say they dislike a particular drink, given a particularly good example, they’ll actually come round to it. Thus the “I don’t drink beer” brigade could well be converted by a well-chilled wheat beer or chardonnay-deniers by a fresh-tasting, creamy, unoaked specimen, especially if it’s served with the right kind of food (a chicken pie, say).

And although at time of writing we’re allowed finally to meet up indoors from next week, I suspect that a lot of us will still be eating outside, which creates a feel-good vibe where almost anything tastes good, according to Professor Barry Smith of the University of London, who compares it to the experience of drinking Provençal rosé by the sea as opposed to a wet night in at home. “Your mood and expectations may be lifted by the pleasure of eating out, and this can enhance the whole experience of drinking and may make us think the wine or beer is better. Picnic food is not great, mostly, but no one ever complains about the food.”

Five wines to keep your friends happy
M&S Vermentino Sicilia 2020 £6.50 (and online from, 12.5%. Smooth, easy-drinking, crowd-pleasing white that works well with seafood, especially with a touch of citrus.

Concha y Toro Corte Ignacio Casablanca Sauvignon Blanc 2020 £8.95 The Wine Society, 13%. Deliciously crisp, fresh, citrussy sauvignon without that in-yer-face smack of gooseberry. Perfect for seafood and salads.

Katie Jones Rosé 2020 £12 Inverarity Morton, 12.5%. More expensive than most rosés, but the most enjoyable I’ve had all year so far. Made from carignan, it’s fresh, savoury and infinitely swiggable.

Morrisons The Best Shiraz 2020 £7.25, 14%. Exuberant, juicy, smashable shiraz from South Africa’s fashionable Swartland. Great value and perfect for a barbecue (though check it’s the 2020 vintage).

Domaine Muret Syrah Pays d’Oc 2020 £10.95 (or £60 for six) Caviste, £12 Forest Wines, 14%. Smart-looking syrah with vibrant, ripe berry fruit. Another good barbecue wine.