Aug. 3 2016 11:46 AM

Make your picnic pop with summer wine pairings

Today, Aug. 3, is National Watermelon Day. What a time to be alive.

Nary a gourd can encapsulate the joie de vivre of summer like a watermelon. That juicy, lip-smackingly decadent treat offers palate-cleansing refreshment for a festive summer meal. As far as I’m concerned, a picnic is just a dumb lunch in the sun if watermelon isn’t involved.

And if you really want to kick your picnic up a notch, there are some wines out there that taste delicious with those succulent red and green wedges.

Northwestern Spain has been popping up on wine lovers’ radar more often lately. Credit this largely to the growing popularity of albariño from Galicia, a region on the Atlantic Ocean just north of Portugal. But another small region in the northwest is gaining notoriety: Bierzo. Armas de Guerra, the oldest winery in the region, produces a lovely rosé made from the mencia grape — far and away the most important red grape of the region — that you can find in stores for around $15.

Mencia, as a red wine, is not too different from a pinot noir: moderately light in body, sporting red fruit characteristics and somewhat dry. As a rosé, it’s pretty and soft.

The 2014 Armas de Guerra rosé is a juicy wine that offers fruit and floral tastes that perfectly complement a picnic — and a watermelon. Expect flavors like semi-ripe red cherry, strawberry and raspberry. Never sweet and never tart, this wine is a total crowd-pleaser. And at this price, this rosé should be your summer go-to.

The salad fiends in your picnic posse don’t even have to leave Bierzo to find a great picnic option. While mencia rules the reds, godello is the locale’s grape of choice for white wines. A fertile and productive grape, godello had a relatively recent arrival in the mainstream wine industry. Its first straight varietal release didn’t hit shelves until the 1980s.

Encanto’s 2013 godello, at about $14, is an impeccable summer white. It features a balanced style, not straying too far into any version of intensity. Like New Zealand sauvignon blanc, it has a tiny amount of lemon/lime citrus, but it’s softer than its Kiwi counterparts. Do you dig on unoaked California chardonnay? This wine is similarly full-bodied, with fresh red apple notes, but has stronger floral aromatics.

Sometimes innocuous, godello can be frustratingly inconsistent. But Encanto’s 2013 vintage is a great value that fills a great niche in the summer, especially for the wine drinker who’s straight-up bored with the usual grapes found on the chain store shelves.

For those who would like to pair their shrimp rolls with a bit of ginger, Willm’s gewürztraminer strikes a nice balance at a fair price ($16). The 2013 vintage shows lychee, almond, cashew, bosc pear and lilac blossom notes and ever-so-slight confectionary qualities in the mid-palate.

The grape with the German name is mostly grown in Alsace, France — which is where this particular wine is from — but some decent bottlings come out of Pfalz, Germany, and Santa Barbara, Calif. If a summer and fall of a particular vintage are too hot, the gewürztraminer grapes may have trouble retaining acid, making the wines taste a bit flabby. 2013 was a bit cooler, and Willm seems to have benefitted from picking the grapes at the right time.

For those who have to have red meat at their picnics, there is a new killer wine on the market — and it’s made of a grape rarely seen outside of its homeland. For your next great burger wine, check out ekigaïna from French winemaker Lionel Osmin & Cie.

The grape is a recent development, first made in 1955 by crossing cabernet sauvignon and tannat grapes. This $15 wine shows wonderful traits from both.

The body of this wine shows macerated, dense cassis, tobacco, Chambord and fig, with a light earthiness and subtle black licorice notes. Is this elegant? No. But it’s full-flavored and likely to appease bold red wine drinkers who aren’t afraid of a somewhat rustic style.

Lionel Osmin is one of the most important names in winemaking in southwest France. Its ekigaïna is part of a bigger project, where Osmin is reintroducing “forgotten” grape varieties by showcasing them on their own. These are not large production wines. Once exclusive to France, this line recently hit Michigan for the first time, and it is worth checking out.

For finds like this, check out your trusted wine shop. The best resource for finding new and interesting bottles is the experienced wine clerks.

Justin King is a certified sommelier and co-owner/general manager of Bridge Street Social, a wine and cocktail-focused restaurant in DeWitt. Send any wine questions his way at

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