Summer Orzo Salad and Picnic Wines to Pair | Wine4.Me


By contributing writer Mary Cressler

Next to BBQ my favorite summertime experience is picnics. I love packing up a fun lunch on a warm summer day and finding a great shady location to enjoy my meal with friends.

Before having kids, I used to pack up elaborate picnics with several types of cheese, breads, fruits, and salads and serve it potluck style. They were great, but they were high maintenance and messy by the end (plus they attracted bees, ants, and other creepy crawlers).

Since having kids (I now have two toddlers), I find it best to make everything in advance and prepare individual servings of a dish to keep things simple once we arrive at our destination.  Kids make enough messes, so I like to keep things as easy (and clean) as possible for a picnic.

I now prepare two simple options in advance–a sandwich and a summer salad.  Instead of serving up several dishes on a plate (potluck style), which can create a mess to clean up, I prepare a light salad at home and serve it in individual mason jars. No plate needed. And once you’re done eating, you just put the cap back on. Easy clean up! Instead of making several individual sandwiches, I take a baguette, cut it in half, load it up with pesto, prosciutto, slices of mozzarella, tomatoes, and strips of basil, and cut it into individual pieces.  It’s so simple and delicious, and the clean up is a cinch.

That’s what a picnic is supposed to be–fun, casual, easy, low maintenance, and tasty.

Summer Orzo Salad and Picnic Wines to Pair | Wine4.Me

With a summer salad, my advice is to make something that can be served either cold or at room temperature, and avoid anything that can spoil (like mayo). I also like to avoid greens for a picnic because they can wilt or get soggy if covered in dressing.  This is a fun, easy, fresh, orzo salad with tomatoes, feta, and roasted red peppers.  It’s flavorful, fresh, and delicious, and travels so well in little mason jars.

Summer Orzo Salad with Lemon Balsamic Vinaigrette
For the Salad:
  • 4 cups precooked orzo (about 8 ounces uncooked)
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ¼ cup jarred roasted red bell pepper, cut into small cubes
  • ¼ cup red onion, finely diced
  • 4 ounces feta, cut into small cubes
  • 12-15 medium-sized basil leaves, julienned
  • Salt and pepper to taste
For the Vinaigrette:
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Cook orzo in a large pot of boiling water until al dente (8-10 minutes) or according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, whisk together the Dijon mustard, honey, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Continue to whisk as you slowly stream in the olive oil.
  3. Add the strained orzo to a large bowl. Gently add in the tomatoes, red peppers, onion, feta, and basil.
  4. Toss with desired amount of the vinaigrette and squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the top.
  5. Spoon into individual mason jars. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Summer Orzo Salad and Picnic Wines to Pair | Wine4.Me

Wine Pairing

When it comes to picnic wines I have a couple preferences.

  1. It has to be refreshing (picnics typically happen during the day and usually in warm or hot weather). Therefore, my choice is usually crisp white wines.
  2. It should be low to medium in alcohol content (we’re talking daytime here; I don’t want something that will make me woozy or sleepy by the end of the picnic.
  3. It should be versatile and easy to pair with a variety of cold to room temperature foods (like sandwiches, salads, cheeses, etc.).
  4. It’s gotta be sealed in a screwcap (not a cork).  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve arrived at my picnic destination only to realize I’ve forgotten my cork puller. And with kids in tow I’ve got enough to worry about. With a screwcap closure, there are no supplies needed. Easy to open and easy to re-seal. If you don’t finish the wine, you can seal the cap back on and not worry about spilling the remains all over your picnic blanket.

My favorite choice for picnics is Vinho Verde. This Portuguese wine is usually low in alcohol (check), light and refreshing (check), and has lots of zesty lemon, lime, and apple flavors, making it great with like-flavored foods (like the salad above).  And there are plenty of options sealed in the screwcap (check).  The bonus factor is that you can find a good bottle for less than $10 (sweet!).

If you can’t find Vinho Verde, my next favorites for picnics are dry rosé (which we discussed back in April), Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris/Grigio. After spending some time in the region early last year I’ve become a huge fan of Pinot Grigio from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Northern Italy. Like this one:

Summer Orzo Salad and Picnic Wines to Pair | Wine4.Me

2012 Livio Felluga Pinot Grigio ($25)

This wine was made for the Orzo Salad.  Bright and crisp with gorgeous aromas of lemon, green apple, orange blossom, and sweet apricot. The wine is incredibly smooth and fresh in the mouth, complex with a savory minerality and amazingly crisp with a long finish. The lemon and sweet fruit notes played off the lemon and tomatoes in the salad and the acidity provided a great balance to the vinaigrette.   The wine also held up great with the salty prosciutto from the sandwich and the herbal flavors of the pesto. A super versatile and refreshing wine that screams summertime.

Happy Picnicking!

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Mary Cressler | Wine4.Me/blog/Mary Cressler is a Certified Sommelier, a Wine Location Specialist, and the proprietor of Vindulge: Wine Education & Consulting. She conducts wine classes and events and offers consulting for individuals, restaurants, and event planners.

She writes about wine, food, and travel on her blog Vindulge. Mary resides in Portland, Oregon with her husband, twin boys, and two Chihuahuas.

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