The Fourth of July is coming up, and along with the soda and the beer, you'll want to lay in some easy-drinking picnic wines for the crowd. We've been collecting suitable wines for the occasion for weeks. For the Fourth, we've gone with an all-American lineup of reds and whites, most $25 or less.
Summer is not the time to break out a big Barolo or that bruiser of a cult Cabernet Sauvignon. You want something more nimble—and made in America for this most American of holidays. That means Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Rhone-style reds.
Gotta have some whites too. Go with a blend, Sauvignon Blanc or, if you must have Chardonnay, one made in a leaner style. Rosés make great picnic fare too, and this year California is turning out some terrific examples.
Just remember to give the whites a good chill. They'll warm up as they sit. If you don't want your reds to show flabby and dull, give them a slight chill too.
Corkscrews at the ready, let the party begin.
2013 Tendu White Wine (California)
A terrific little white wine from one of California's most interesting winemakers, Steve Matthiesson. His day job? Vineyard manager, which is why he's got a certain talent in sourcing fruit for this dry, cool-toned white all over California. I love the big 1-liter bottle closed with a white cap like a soda pop. With its notes of grapefruit and citrus rind, Tendu white wine is a lot of wine for the money. About $20.
2012 Varner Wine "Foxglove" Chardonnay (Central Coast)
Who couldn't use a nice, unoaked Chardonnay from the Central Coast? I sure could. And I suspect you could too. Lean and crisp, the 2012 Varner "Foxglove" Chardonnay is great with food and an outstanding value for the price. Enjoy it with grilled oysters, that shrimp you just threw on the barbie, or some grilled salmon. About $13.
2013 Storm Wines "Santa Ynez Valley" Sauvignon Blanc (Santa Barbara County)
Ernst Storm's Sauvignon Blanc from Santa Ynez Valley is classic, with a scent of fresh cut grass and lime. The fruit is clean and ripe, a bit tropical, but crisp and high-toned. In short, a perfect summer wine. From $20 to $23.
2013 Picnic Wine Co. "Blue Plate" Rosé (Napa Valley)
No wimp, this crisp Napa Valley rosé from Picnic Wine Co. has plenty of fruit and body, making it an ideal match for barbecued chicken or grilled salmon. About $12.
2013 Division Winemaking Co. "Villages" Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley, Ore.)
Winemakers Kate and Tom Monroe bridge from Portland, Ore., have made a Beaujolais-style Pinot via the maceration carbonique method. Fresh and vivid, it's very easy drinking, very like a light Beaujolais with a bright snap of acidity. Pour this one with grilled sausages or a burger. About $22.
2012 Testarossa Winery "Santa Lucia Highlands" Pinot Noir (Central Coast)
How about a soft juicy Pinot Noir from high-end single-vineyard specialist Testarossa? The grapes for this beauty are sourced from the Santa Lucia Highlands in general, making it more affordable than their single-vineyard bottlings. This is the bottle to squirrel away for the Pinot Noir fans in the group. About $35.
2012 Loring Wine Co. "Central Coast" Pinot Noir (Central Coast)
Loring's Central Coast Pinot Noir is fresh and direct, round and smooth. An extraordinary wine for the price. The Pinots from Santa Rita Hills or Santa Lucia Highlands from this label are around too, in the $30 to $35 price range. From $20 to $25.
2012 Quivira Vineyards "Wine Creek Ranch" Grenache (Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma)
From an experienced hand at Grenache, and made with grapes farmed biodynamically, this bright, juicy Sonoma Grenache is silky and smooth, tasting of black cherries and dried wild herbs. Delicious and easygoing, but with some depth and character. About $32.
2012 Ridge Vineyards "Benito Dusi Ranch" Zinfandel (Central Coast)
From a 90-year-old vineyard in Paso Robles, Ridge's 2012 "Benito Dusi Ranch" Zinfandel is stunningly good. Lush and full-bodied, this deep dark red is perfumed with cherries and plums and tastes of that fruit plus sweet spices, cracked black pepper and a touch of dried herbs. Tannins are there, but seamlessly integrated into this beautiful Central Coast Zin. From $25 to $29.
2012 Stolpman Vineyards/La Cuadrilla "Ballard Canyon" red wine (Central Coast)
For the past few years, Stolpman Vineyards in the new Ballard Canyon AVA in Santa Barbara County has produced a wine called La Cuadrilla for "crew." Each year, the vineyard crew works an experimental cuadra or block, which rotates throughout the ranch. And it's these grapes that are are used to make La Cuadrilla, so the blend is slightly different each year. About $20.