My first trip to Paris changed the way I would view picnics for the rest of my life. Yes, my friend Bridget and I were impoverished 18-year-olds, but the few francs we had jingling in our pockets allowed us to dine like gourmets. Rather than ham sandwiches and Mi Wadi, our pique-niques in Le Jardin du Luxembourg, just a stone's throw from our very basic hostel on Rue Saint-Jacques, were feasts of freshly baked baguettes filled with gooey Camembert and ripe, juicy tomatoes, washed down with a red wine that tasted of the French terroir. These few things still remain the essentials of my picnic, although sometimes I'm more in the mood for a chilled Chardonnay, something like a Macon-Villages, to go with the creaminess of the cheese.
I hate to tempt fate by talking about the weather but, as long as it's not raining, it's picnic weather, in my book. It's a particularly lovely way to meet up with a group of friends; and it would just be plain rude not to open a bottle of something nice. If you're lucky enough to have a designated driver in your group, be sure to make the soft drinks interesting too. One of my favourite is Mr Jeffares Irish Blackcurrant Cordial, which you will find in speciality supermarkets like Morton's in Ranelagh, Donnybrook Fair, Avoca, Ardkeen Stores in Waterford and McCambridge's in Galway. It's beautiful served with sparkling water over a load of ice and a fresh sprig of mint. Natural apple juice is wonderful too. Try David Llewellyn's from his apple orchard in Lusk or Cornelius Traas's Karmine Apple Juice from his orchards in Tipperary. It's also worth checking out the selection of non-alcoholic drinks in Marks & Spencer, including their Freshly Squeezed Rasp- berry & Pomegranate Still Lemonade.
So, with the soft drinks covered off, here are the rules of engagement for picnics. If you're heading off in a car, go for it. A nice rug makes all the difference. I picked up a rug years ago that is water-resistant on one side so perfect for damp grass, and conveniently it rolls up neatly with handles at the top so it's a cinch to carry it. And then there's the question of your plates and glasses. While I do believe in grab-anything-and-get-out-the-door, if you're any kind of a picnic fan, it is worth investing in a picnic basket. It just makes the whole al fresco experience more of an occasion when you have real plates and cutlery and, yes, that includes real glasses too. Ikea is perfect for cheap glasses: go for a 125ml glass so the wine doesn't sit in your glass for too long and lose its chill. If you have young children, which we don't any more, it's best to stick to the plastic-or-disposable rule for them.
I always keep a chill sleeve in the freezer, which I pop on a bottle, preferably a screwtop, before heading off. But what if you don't have any white wine chilled? Well there's a life hack for that. All you have to do is wrap the bottle in a wet cloth and then put it into the freezer for 10 minutes. If you're looking to cool a load of bottles, then your best option is to use a bucket filled with ice (preferably crushed), some cold water and lots of salt. And here's the science bit - when salt is added to water, it lowers the freezing point. Make sure that the bottle is submerged to the top and your wine should be cool in about 15 minutes.
In case you haven't heard, the no-alcohol beverage of choice for this summer is iced coffee, and to ensure that you get the right chill on your homebrew, Nespresso has launched two limited-edition coffees. For an aromatic and fruity hit, opt for the Leggero, and for something with a bit more punch, go for the aptly named Intenso. To make your iced coffee, load 7 regular-sized ice cubes into a robust glass, pour your espresso directly onto the ice, and finish with 90ml cold water or cold milk froth (approx 6 tbsp). Cheers!
4 wines to try
Murcia Lemon Bucks Fizz, €8.80
4pc, from Marks & Spencer
If you’re a Prosecco fan, this light, sparkling cocktail made with white wine and zesty Murcia lemon juice might just be the summer tipple for you. The lemon has a soft cordial flavor, and as it’s pre-mixed and very low in alcohol, it’s perfect for daytime quaffing.
Domaine Haut Marin, Connoisseur L’Eternelle Fidèle 2016, €14.99
11pc, from The Malt House in Trim, Co Meath, and wineonline.ie
A screwtop from the Côtes de Gascogne, the burst of pink grapefruit on the nose of this aromatic white wine, made from Colombard and Ugni Blanc, is reflected in the fresh, citrusy palate with a touch of lemon and lime. Nicely structured, with plenty of acidity and relatively low alcohol.
Peter Lehmann Clancy’s 2013, €12.99
14.5pc, from Londis, Malahide; Mortons of Ranelagh, Drinkstore, Stoneybatter; Nolan’s, Clontarf, all Dublin; O’Donoghues, Cork
A smooth, easy-drinking Australian wine, packed with the ripe plum and blackcurrant flavours of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, and just a touch of Merlot. A screwcap makes it the ideal choice for a picnic. Pair with salami and cured meats.
Le Paradou Grenache 2015, €14.95
13.5pc, Green Man Wines, 64 Wines, Donnybrook Fair; Drinkstore, Searsons, D6 Beers, Wines & Spirits, Nolan’s, all Dublin; Mortons of Galway; Ardkeen, Waterford; Daly’s Off-Licence, Boyle, Co Roscommon, and searsons.com
An immediately pleasing wine with a generous wash of ripe, red fruit: this is perfect for a long, languorous afternoon in the countryside.