THERE'S HARDLY anything worse than being on a picnic and finding yourself with nothing to drink. If the picnic site is your backyard, a remedy probably is close at hand. Yet if you are far from such beacons of civilization as a supermarket or soft drink vending machine, only the camels in your crowd won't complain.
Short of such a tragedy, the picnic beverage quartermaster suffers acute embarrassment when the liquids are on hand but there is no way to get at them. Depending on the beverage, the absence of such niceties as a bottle-operner, church key or corkscrew, is sure to cause loss of face and maybe the loss of a friend or spouse to boot.Forget the ice or the cups and glasses and you will find yourself trying to placate an angry mob. It's an assignment fraught with danger.
The first step, then, if you are to successfully keep the picnic fountain running, is to make a list; first of supplies and support materials, second of the beverages themselves. Give due regard to the ages represented in the party, the expected duration of your safari, whether thirst-inspiring activities such as softball are planned and -- since you are venturing out of doors -- whethre the day will be hot and unremittingly sunny. Then weigh your planned supplies against the number of people available to carry them, as well as the distance you have to walk to the picnic site.
Most of this will be done instinctively, of course, and the presence of a Swiss army knife will compensate for almost anything left behind, except the beverages themselves or, for children, the straws.
As for the beverages, I leave soda pop, milk and fruit juices and drink to you, as well as the task of finding a recipe for Bloody Marys. Hard liquor isn't really comfortable in short sleeves, though there's no reason not to bring along a flask of brandy as a safeguard in case of emergency or a momentary escape from quarreling children. As a devotee of Rolling Rock, my mind is made up about beer, so I have only a couple of random thoughts on suds. So-called light beer may weigh less on your stomach, but not in your hand by the carton or case. Cans do weigh less than bottles, though, and the contents of cans will chill faster.
Water has become so chic that I'm sure there will be a multitude of bottled water picnics this summer. It is, in fact, a good idea to have some along on a first visit to an unfamiliar picnic sit, but when budgeting for supplies remember all those tastings Canada Dry club has won.
All of which brings us to wine, which has been tied to picnics through many works of art and literature. The only incompatibility between wine and picnics, in fact, is a question of temperature. Picnickers want chilled wine, yet in summer wine seems to resist staying chilled outdoors.
Therefore the first, and last, heresy you'll read here. Instead of hiring an insulation specialist, consider using ice cubes to chill either white or light red wine. One could argue that any wine too good for an ice cube shouldn't be on a picnic in the first place, and for a special picnic with that special person a special container to keep that champagne well iced is no affectation. Somehow a vacuum bottle filled with wine is never enough, but surrounding several 1.5 or 3 liter jugs of wine with ice and water requires a bathtub.
Another advantage of jug wines is their screw tops. You don't need a cordscrew. On the other hand, if you really care for wine and you can remember the corkscrew, why not take along a bottle, or several bottles depending on the size of the group. While you will want a wine that's not too heavy, it should have enough body to stand up to the conglomeration of foods, cold meats, mixed salads and the like, that comprise standard picnic fare.
With some consideration to price, here are several suggestions for wines in bottle other than the most obvious brands:
From Spain: Torres Vina Sol, Marquis de Castel or the red or white wine from Marquis de Caceres.
From Portugal: Monte Estoril, 1972 Dao Conde de Santar, 1975 Bucellas Velho, Caves Velhas.
From Austria: Magic Flute
From Italy: 4 Vicariati
From France: 1979 Beaujolais Villages (as soon as it arrives in local stores), DuLong Cotes du Russillon, Charmelieu Cabernet d'Anjou
From The United States: Montbray (Maryland) red or white, San Martin fume blanc, gamay beaujolais from Parducci, Beaulieu or Robert Mondavi, Mirassou white burgundy, Beringer Grinolino, Tualatin rose of pinot noir (Oregon), Gran Cru's Sonoma Bouquet.
If sparkling wine is a must, non-vintage Valdivieso from Chile, either brut or demi-sec, is a very good value for money.