With the warmer weather and summer visitors soon to be converging, it’s time to entertain, and what’s better than a great outdoors Garden Party!
Seriously, a Garden Party can be a very good source of providing your family, friends and neighbors a truly wonderful time. No I don’t mean the garden parties of “olden days”, fussy, extravagant affairs from the late Victorian era.
Those elaborate, lavish garden parties were an entertaining social affair, held at the grandest of Newport, Rhode Island’s mansions, at suburban “summer cottages,” and at the more local city outdoor parks. Then, the garden party was deemed a Hudson River, coastal Long Island, and Jersey Shore necessity during the summer months. The owner of a fine summer place was expected to allow those who “must stay in the city” at least one sniff of his roses and newly mown grass in the summer.
These affairs took weeks to prepare and, needless to say, extravagant society garden parties were key to a successful summer social calendar. Typically, engraved invitations on simple watermarked notepaper were sent out a fortnight in advance, with travel directions enclosed on a separate card. As the proper garden party was always held entirely out of doors, the invitations always had the caveat “weather permitting.”
When the big day arrived, servants were on hand to greet guests upon their arrival and lead them to the lawn where the hostess would be waiting to welcome them. There was usually a tent pitched where the refreshments were served, and, if the weather was questionable, the hospitable hostess was prepared to move indoors so no guest would endure an unexpected heavy downpour, ruining fine silks and beautiful bonnets.
Piazzas were filled with chairs; rugs were laid down on the grass and amusements were always provided for the guests, such as croquet, lawn tennis, musicians and a dance area. An important element of success was to set up plenty of seats, most were arranged in the shade looking on to the croquet ground; and the others scattered about the grounds. It was common to use sofas, arm-chairs, and ordinary chairs from the house, with an intermingling of basket chairs and garden seats.
No one used their best glass or china at these at these garden parties — all the necessary glass, silver, and china were rented from the caterer, as it saved a world of counting, washing and storing.
Victorian servants were instructed to preserve the proprieties of a proper dinner—even when the meal was served under the trees. The entire meal was served cold: salads, cold birds, ham, tongue, pâté de foie gras, cold patties, salmon, jellies, ices, cakes, and punch. Fruit was a great feature of garden party entertainment—melons, peaches, grapes, strawberries, were all served throughout the season. Servants were instructed that there would be no piles of dirty dishes, knives, forks, or spoons visible on the green grass; punch bowls would be continually replenished; the cups, spoons, plates, wine glasses, and forks were abundant and clean. Many hospitable hosts offered claret-cup, champagne-cup, Madeira, sherry, and, port brandy and soda-water at these extravaganzas.
Thankfully, today our summer garden parties don’t need to be as lavish, time consuming or expensive as in days of yore.
Come on, it’s summer, and it’s too darn hot for stuffy rules!
Summer calls for summer food, and summer food calls for summer wines — wines that are light, chilly, and not too serious, so that they leave you light and chilled, too. Surprise — this includes red wines (chilled, of course).
Today’s summer parties are about leafy greens, fresh herbs, juicy tomatoes and fresh chevré to make salad dishes spiked with citrus dressings. Summer parties wouldn’t be complete without the tangy and smoked flavors from a BBQ. The bright acidity and flavors of lemons, tomatoes and grilled vegetables (not the mention the rising temperature) require a lively, lower alcohol wine.
While your usual summer choice might be a jug of something simple, like an inexpensive white Zinfandel, you’ll be rewarded if you give your summer wines at least half as much thought as you give your summer food. Start with light and easy-to-prepare summer foods — salads, grilled vegetables, and seafood. The wine you choose should have that same elegant nonchalance.
Grüner Veltliners from Austria and Spanish Albarinos are white wines full of citrus flavors and sparkling acidity that perfectly complement spring dishes. Two recent favorites include Grooner’s Grüner Veltliner and the Paco & Lola Albarino. You may want to consider a Muscadet from France with its crisp, citrusy, somewhat earthy, austere taste that makes it ideal with many warm-weather dishes. Crisp, lemony Vinho Verde from Portugal makes even the most basic dishes — grilled vegetables doused with extra-virgin olive oil and a spritz of lemon, or a light fish, or pasta with pesto and walnuts — seem like the most special meal.
Pinot Gris from Oregon, is one of the most charming white wines around. It has a special zest that makes even mustard potato salad dance in your mouth. For Oregon Pinot Gris, we love A to Z, Soléna, and King’s Estate Pinot Gris. Don’t rule out Pinot Gris from Alsace or France, because they’re sometimes great deals.
My all-time favorite for a simple garden party is Viognier. Honeysuckle, citrus blossoms, gardenias, tangerine, apricots and peaches all mesh in a glass of Viognier. Loaded with aromatics and, at its best, spices and minerals, Viognier is good for some intriguing food matches. When it balances flamboyance with crispness, Viognier is this season’s best garden-party wine. Some favorites of mine are Yalumba’s Viognier (Australia) with a perfect balance of florals, apricots and peaches, richness and acidity; Pepperwood Grove Viognier (California) offering lots of well-balanced fresh honeysuckle and juicy apricot nectar; McManis Viognier (California) with heady honeysuckle, nuts, and ripe peach flavors and aromas; Albermarle Viognier 2007 (Virginia) this one is herbal and citrusy yet lush, with white peach and apricot nectar.
As your food gets more complex, so should your wine. Sancerre (I do love Sancerre!), from the Loire Valley of France, tastes like a very ripe, just-picked green apple. Imagine that juicy flavor with curried chicken salad or a roasted chicken with cranberry relish. Sancerre is made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape, so if you’d rather stay closer to home, try the Sauvignon Blanc from Merryvale Starmont Vineyards in California. It’s rich and fruity, a fabulous mouthful of wine, and fun just sipped alone. While it doesn’t need food — unlike Muscadet or Vinho Verde, which hit their highest notes with food — Sauvignon Blanc can give a lift to turkey or ham sandwiches, chicken and seafood salads, and crudites with a simple dip. It’s heavenly with a Waldorf salad — yummy!
Though I know you’re probably skeptical, try a German Riesling —there are few better wines with pork roast and lamb sandwiches. German wine labels are elaborate, but look for the words Riesling and Kabinett, which means the wine is a drier (not sweet) one made from the wonderful Riesling grape. Mosel-Saar-Ruwer rieslings will likely be especially flowery and lovely. Chill well, open, and sip.
Barbecue wine? Of course. Barbecue doesn’t just mean beer. For barbecues, I prefer bright pink Rosés with complexity and some grip to them to match strong BBQ flavors, one of my recent discoveries is the Argentine Melipal Rosé of Malbec. Malbec grapes give depth balanced by the refreshing flavors of strawberry and watermelon. Do try rosé wines from France — they’re fruity, flinty, and a bit earthy — and are often less expensive, and far better with hamburgers, tuna steaks, grilled vegetables (think mushrooms), and barbecued chicken. We especially like Chateau Calissanne Rosé from Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, France and Buoncristiani Rosato from Napa Valley or Kluge Estate Winery Albemarle Rosé from Virginia. Then there are white Zinfandels that not only are pink, pleasant and easy to drink, but can actually add some complexity and spirit to your picnic foods, like cold roast chicken, grilled shrimp, smoked meats, and potato salad. If you’re ever lucky enough to see the white Zinfandel from De Loach Vineyards White Zinfandel, grab it. For a delicious Pink Sparkler we recommend Riondo Pink Prosecco.
For something a little different, try a Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais from France. Be sure to chill it. It’s okay to chill some red wines after all, it’s summer! The diffuse flavors of Beaujolais are far better and more concentrated when the wine is slightly chilled. Place it in ice water for five minutes or so, or in the refrigerator for a half hour. A chilled, young Beaujolais with ribs hot off the grill or a rotisserie chicken that you’ve picked up — how easy! — would be heaven. Another possibility: an inexpensive Rioja from Spain, also slightly chilled (we like Marques de Riscal). The Juan Gil Monastrell from Jumilla, Spain, is a steal for all of its plushness and red berry fruit. There is one red, which I introduced to friends in past summers and still is a great favorite at barbecues is Paringa’s Sparkling Shiraz. It is so dark deep purple, you can’t even see the bubbles and the rich ripe flavors really do make the barbcued burgers, pork, and chicken sing.
If you’ve never tried a light, young, fresh Pinot Noir from Oregon with poached salmon, hot or cold, you owe it to yourself. Some Oregon Pinot Noirs can be very expensive, but quite a few are reasonable. We just love Solena Grand Cuvee.
When dinner is over, treat yourself to a dessert wine. You may not think you like dessert wines, but try a Moscato d’Asti from Italy. It’s light, fresh, slightly fizzy, and delightful (and usually low in alcohol), absolutely perfect with fresh berries, chilled melon, berry compotes, poached pears, fruit pies and tarts, cookies, and custards—try Bricco del Sol Moscato d’Asti. We also love Brilliant Disguise Moscato from Two Hands Winery in Australia.
There are also two other items I aways have on hand for summer parties: a giant bowl of Plantter’s Punch and a bottle of Pol Roger. A chilled bottle of bubbly—champagne, cava, prosecco, or moscato — is indispensable for summer because you never know when the perfect sunset will appear.
See you at a garden party.