In acknowledgement of the theme for this month’s publication, I wanted to say a few words about enjoying great wines while camping during these warm summer months and beyond. Specifically, I am thinking about camping and/or traveling in an RV with the family….possibly on a family vacation to a favorite annual destination, or even traveling across country for the season. In any case, it is always reasonable to expect we can still enjoy great wines while out on these sojourns, and indeed I think our expectations, over the past 30 years especially, for our beverage experiences have come a long way from the trips that featured a half keg of some cheap brew we enjoyed in college….or maybe just tolerated! More and more in fact, America has become a wine-drinking nation and we now expect to be able to find some good vino even for road trips.
The first consideration when looking at wines for the outback would be, obviously, convenience of use. Modern wines come in many different packages other than the traditional glass bottle, which can be inconvenient as they bounce around the inside of a cabinet when you’re hurtling up that bumpy mountain road. Wines are commonly packaged now in bag-in-box, cans, milk cartons, or even in metal canisters! I love the box wine option for a few reasons. First of all, it fits perfectly and securely inside a cabinet, inside the refrigerator, or even on the countertop, assuming it is ballasted in the corner or such. The weight of the transport is much less, so you can bulk up easily, and you can dispose of it conveniently in an eco-friendly manner. The best part is that you can also get some very good wines now available in the bag-in-box. Granted, you probably won’t see your favorite bottle of premium Napa Cab or Cru Burgundy in a BiB any time soon, but when you consider the quality of wine you can get now in a box, it is easily the equivalent of most any other wine you would buy in the supermarket in the $10-20 range, which means we’re talking up to “mid-market” wines. Gone are the days of simply seeing glorified cooking wines in the box format. One negative would be that bag-in-box wines don’t have the same shelf life as a bottled wine would have, but most people are not looking to cellar wine while on their road trip! And one huge positive aspect is that the wine inside the bladder that’s in the box, will keep for a very long time after you crack into that first glass, because most taps today are so ingeniously designed that oxygen…..which is what deteriorates a bottle of wine as soon as it is opened….never touches the wine that’s inside the bladder! So, you can drink up one day, and not come back to it for another few days with the wine being just as fresh.
Now, after all this, if you still prefer to pack wine in bottles, remember that if you drink wines with a screw cap, you can also get excellent wine and you won’t even need to pack a cork screw!
The other consideration I like to take into account when looking for wine is the likely foods you’ll be preparing by the campfire or under the extended awning each evening. The mistake here is to assume that because the weather is warm, then lighter white wines are the way to go, but I actually think camping allows for a wide array of preferred wine styles. True, a lighter white wine like a pleasant Pinot Grigio or a crisp Sauvignon Blanc is a sure thing with those veggie plates with herb dip and the grilled chicken that you’re probably planning. Still, I love a good dry Rosé with a hot dog (yes, try it!) and, if a fresh fruit salad is already in the Tupperware, make sure to pack an off-dry Riesling as well. And don’t discount red wine either. First of all, you may very well be planning on throwing a few steaks, or even hamburgers, on the grill and this surely calls for a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Barossa Valley Shiraz (under screw cap!) from Australia. The other reason is that, depending on where you are, you may experience cooler temperatures in the evening, and if you’re sitting outside with your fleece on by a smoky campfire, which can dominate your senses, you will appreciate a heavier wine that is more intense with perhaps some smoky notes of its own from an oak barrel.
Whatever you decide to bring, temperature control is huge in the summer time! Keep those whites in the fridge and maybe even toss the reds in as well, 20 minutes before you plan to drink them. And, if you’re by a cool river, don’t hesitate to float the wines in basket….but make sure to tie it up to a tree, of course! If you have a Bag-in-Box wine, you can take the whole bladder out of the box and float that in the cool water, but try to keep the nozzle dry. Either way, camp well and drink well!
-Brian McClure, Beverage Director at The Greenbrier. Hashtag #78. June 2016.