Many of us dream about warm, sunny days at the beach all year long. When the season finally comes and you find yourself on the way to the shore, you’ll need some ideas about what to eat and drink during your stay. Here are some suggestions for wines and food that will pair beautifully with the experience of fresh ocean air and sand beneath your feet.
Picnic on the Beach – Tuna Picnic Loaf and Rhône Valley Rosé
I like my picnics to be sumptuous to eat, but simple to pack and clean up. That’s why I love picnic-loaf sandwiches. Take a whole, unsliced loaf of bread, cut the top off of it horizontally, hollow it out in the middle, add your sandwich filling, replace the top, and cover it with plastic wrap. Pack this shareable treat along with a cutting board and bread knife. When you get to the beach, simply slice it for delicious, unique sandwiches that require very little preparation or cleanup. My ideal version of this meal for the beach would include a tuna salad made with a little mayo, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. I’d also add some hard-boiled egg and olive oil along with some greens like basil or arugula and maybe some roasted red pepper or tomato.
Pair your picnic sandwich with a cold bottle of dry Rosé from the Rhône Valley in France. These wines can come from a variety of specific appellations but will always have the word “Rhône” somewhere on the label. They are generally made from a blend of red grapes, with Grenache being the most common. Other varieties included in the blend might include Syrah and Mourvèdre, among others. To explore the fascinating process whereby red grapes are turned into pink wine, see our previous post on the subject. A Rhône Rosé will have a charming pink color and subtle flavors of fresh berries and flower petals but without any sweetness. It’ll make your sandwich and your time on the beach even more pleasant.
Afternoon Appetizer – Mussels Seared in a Cast-Iron Pan and Pinot Grigio
Mussels are immensely underappreciated. They are flavorful, easy to find, environmentally friendly to farm, and relatively inexpensive. As with any shellfish, buy your mussels fresh and be very careful with the process of sorting and cleaning them. My favorite way to prepare mussels is to heat a large cast-iron pan until it is almost frighteningly hot – sprinkled drops of water should boil away instantly. Drop your mussels into the pan in a single layer – as they cook, the mussels will begin to pop open and steam in their own juices. As soon as they have all opened, season these shellfish generously with sea salt and serve with melted butter. The whole process should only last a matter of minutes. The beauty of this preparation is that you get to experience the pure taste of the mussels without the added work of preparing multiple ingredients or a complex broth.
The simple flavors in this dish require a clean, dry wine with delicate flavors, like Pinot Grigio. Known in France as “Pinot Gris,” this grape variety has become extremely popular in recent years for its good value and refreshing character. Many examples in the American market come from Italy’s Veneto region, but keep your eye out for bottlings from other places, as well. The Alsace area in France is particularly well known for delicious Pinot Gris that is often a little fuller and richer than those from Italy.
Evening on the Deck – Grilled Salmon and Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
What could be better than an evening at the beach sitting on the deck with the grill going and a glass of wine? Grilled salmon makes for a very rewarding main dish for dinner served with a simple side salad. Brush your salmon steaks with oil, season with salt and pepper, and then grill them skin-side down for about three to five minutes until they are golden brown. Be careful not to try to turn them over too early, or you can damage them. When they’re done on the first side, they’ll turn over easily. Then, flip them over and finish the other side for a further two to three minutes. I’ll often use a timer just because I don’t always trust my internal clock when I’m enjoying conversation and a glass of wine. After the salmon comes off the grill, you should cover it and let it rest for about five minutes to allow it to finish cooking and to reabsorb its juices – you don’t need to add any additional sauces or seasoning.
Pinot Noir and salmon is a classic pairing, but I would especially encourage you to look for a Pinot specifically from the Santa Lucia Highlands area in California. These wines come from a distinct portion of California’s Monterey County where high elevation, excellent sun exposure, brisk Pacific breezes, and dramatic differences between day and night temperatures contribute to wines with intense flavors and excellent balance. These wines have moderate tannins that won’t overpower the fish but will satisfy the cravings of red wine lovers. A beautifully grilled piece of salmon with a glass of this elegant Pinot Noir will provide a stylish finish to your day at the beach.