How to Picnic Like You’re in German Wine Country

August 26, 2015

We've partnered with Wines of Germany to find out more about the country's versatile varietals—like Pinot Noir, Blanc, and Gris.

Today: How to make your next leisurely dinner party feel like it's taking place in the German countryside. 

Vineyards in the Pfalz region of Germany, photo courtesy Rheinland-Pfalz Tourismus via Flickr.

The heatwave at the end of August arrives like a sudden smack to the face—undetectable at first, and then very quickly, like it's reminding you to enjoy the spoils of summer as much as possible before it's too late. And you should listen, because if you aren't scrambling to get outside—and to tote your favorite food and drink along for the ride—you'll get the "I told you so" look when, in a few months, it's too chilly to climb the fire escape to the roof or toss a blanket in the park. 

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The inevitable melee of autumn is enough to make me want to embrace a European approach to the end of the season (read: a little slower, a lot more wine). So, because of my love of unearthing new bottles to try—coupled with an attempt to explore my German roots—I set out to learn how to drink (and eat) like I was barefoot and stuffed to the gills near the Rhine (all without having to book a flight). 

1. Set the vineyard scene.

Where are you headed for your jaunt to the country? The backyard, a nearby park, along a lake, or in an actual vineyard?

Picnics are at their best when they feel a bit impromptu, the food tastes like it was just made, and your space encourages stretching out. That means packing up your fare in pretty (but utilitarian) vessels in a gorgeous (functional) market bag—and don't forget a large blanket or tablecloth. Fresh flowers, enamelware, and real silverware add a touch of home. When you're picking out a spot, remember that the German countryside is covered in hills and valleys—so if you see a slope, you know what to do: Park it and unpack. 

2. Pack your bags with (what else?) wine. 

It’s easy to think of Germans as beer drinkers or stocked up only on Riesling. But in truth, drinking like a German means more than that—it also means Pinot. And I'll shout it from the rooftops, the same as I did for Cabernet Franc: I love the Pinot grape. I LOVE IT. 

To understand what other varietals are out there—and what to look for when you are planning a picnic—I chatted with KaMar Gomez, head wine buyer at Smith and Vine in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. We talked about two regions—Pfalz and Nahe, in southwestern Germany—that are well known for their Pinots (Noir, Blanc, and Gris), which KaMar described as crisp yet not too tannic or tightly-wound.

For example, a bottle of 2012 Petri Pinot Noir from Pfalz lands right in the middle of a French Burgundy and an Oregon Pinot, he told me. Madeline Puckette, Content Director at Wine Folly, echoed this sentiment, explaining that the unique taste (cinnamon and allspice flavors) of German Pinot Noir is due to oak-aging and the influence of regional soils, including granite, slate, basalt, and limestone clays. And the Pinot Noir in Germany isn't just red: I also tried a rich yet light salmon-colored Blanc de Noir from Schäfer Fröhlich which had the nose of a juicy rose but drank like a dry white. German Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc both have aromas of stone fruit and citrus zest, but Gris is better to bring out if you are serving boldly-flavored foods (reserve Blanc for a board of soft, stinky cheeses). 

3. Make food that will travel well (or at least a bit further than from kitchen to dinner table).

If you're setting up close to home—in the backyard, on the roof deck, or what have you—and are looking to stay classic and drink red, Madeline says that spätzle is your ticket. "German Pinot Noir is incredibly versatile because of its higher acidity (it rarely tastes flabby), but if you'd like to do a great pairing that is classically German, go for spätzle," she suggested. "It's surprisingly easy to make!"

Round out the menu with this Hasselback Potato Skillet Bake that goes from oven to blanket in a cinch (just don't forget a trivet!) and pairs nicely with Pinot Gris. End with a show-stopper dessert like this Bee Sting Cake (you can make it a few days in advance!) or a flaky apple pastry.

Heading further afield? Pack dishes that will keep their flavors, whether warm or cold. Madeline says that pretzels (a classic Bavarian treat) are the perfect thing to snack on when you're drinking Pinot Blanc. Chilled sausages with mustard and sauerkraut make an easy main and do well with Pinot Gris. Bring along springerles—a classic German cookie made with anise and lemon—or plum torte to finish off the meal with Pinot Noir. 

Second photo by Skye McAlpine, third photo by James Ransom, fourth photo by Alpha Smoot, and last photo by Yossi Arefi

What’s your favorite picnic wine? Tell us in the comments below!

We’ve partnered with Wines of Germany to find out more about the country’s versatile varietals—from fruit-forward to bone dry. Find out more about the country’s Pinot Noir, Blanc, and Gris here.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • monika
  • Susanne Irmer
    Susanne Irmer
  • AntoniaJames
  • cratecooking
  • laurenlocally
I love oysters and unfussy sandwiches.


monika August 27, 2015
I second AntoniaJames: there is nothing like a great Riesling. Not necessarily Kabinett, also others. Always fresh, mineral and fruity without knocking you out. I'd go for one from the Ruwer or the Saar valley (unfortunately what used to be called Mosel-Saar-Ruwer is now exclusively Mosel..., so hard to determine where a wine comes from when you don't know your way around). To top it off, I'd have one from the lower Mosel region, which will probably be more opulent and full....
AntoniaJames August 28, 2015
I use Riesling in my plum and apricot jams, a trick I learned from the extraordinary Paul Virant. (A recipe for yellow plum and Riesling jam is in his "Preservation Kitchen," one of my favorite cookbooks in any genre from the past decade.) Whatever doesn't go into the jamming kettle goes into a glass or two, as the perfect reward for hard work in a hot kitchen. ;o) P.S. I use Emerald Beauty plums in that jam; they'll arrive at our local markets within a few weeks.
Susanne I. August 27, 2015
how funny do read this german picnic article .. when will you ship to Germany? ..
AntoniaJames August 26, 2015
Funny you should ask (what with the German wines sponsor) . . . . invariably, I reach for a Kabinett Mosel Riesling when packing a basket supper. So fresh and bright - perfect with summer fare. ;o)
laurenlocally August 26, 2015
One of my favorites, too!
cratecooking August 26, 2015
This is exactly what I wanted to read today!