SPRING IS IN full bloom, you've broken out the suntan oil, the car is packed to the gills with everything you need for the perfect picnic, when suddenly you remember the wine.
Is there anything on a picnic more troublesome than wine? For starters, it's going to roll around in your car, getting overheated and stirred up, or sit in the cooler next to the beers (a much more sensible picnic beverage) where it may well freeze. And once you get there you'll find you've forgotten the corkscrew, and there won't be anything to drink from but plastic cups, and between the bug spray and the charcoal-lighter fluid you sure won't be able to smell the darn stuff. Where's that boda bag when you really need it?
Now wait just a minute . . . Cue the butterflies. Wine adds so much romance and pleasure to outdoor dining. What if your precious bottle could be insulated, coddled and protected from heat and cold? What if you had elegant acrylic wine glasses to serve it in? What if you could strap on a simple back pack that contained everything you needed for the perfect al fresco repast? Then that bottle of wine starts to look pretty good. Now you're schlepping in style!
Hauling your wines need not be a chore if you have the proper gear. Whether you are looking for a complete picnic assemblage or simply a well-designed bottle carrier, there are choices a-plenty, both in local shops and via the Internet.
If all you really need is something along the lines of a wicker basket with compartments for a bottle or two, you need look no farther than Hold Everything, a downtown-Seattle shop under the Williams-Sonoma corporate umbrella. The store offers a lovely rattan accessory caddy ($49), with compartments for wine bottles, flatware and linens (1420 Fifth Ave.; 800-421-2264).
If you like the look of wicker but want to insulate your wine bottle, not just carry it, a Web retailer called Onawhim.com has the answer. Tucked within an impressive display of picnic baskets is one called the "Claret" ($25), a wicker-wrapped, insulated, one-bottle carrier.
Included are a nickel-plated bottle stopper, a waiter's corkscrew and an adjustable shoulder strap (800-899-0959).
Most other insulated one- or two-bottle carriers are made of nylon or polyester and include some sort of waterproof lining. Brookstone carries a good, basic style that comes with a corkscrew, foil cutter and a pair of acrylic goblets. It has been on sale for as little as $20. The company also stocks a two-bottle picnic backpack with all of the above plus a cheese board and knife and flatware for two ($130).
A little wine shop called the 6th Avenue Wine Seller, at the corner of Sixth and Olive, has a nice selection of one-bottle holders shaped like tiny golf bags. Made by "Picnic at Ascot," they come in your choice of black, burgundy or green ($22). A two-bottle model, with corkscrew and stopper, is an even better deal at $28 (206-621-2669).
Back online, a Web site called Goinginstyle.com sells an insulated, one-bottle wine carrier ($35) that uses two gel ice packs to keep it chilled. Best for a bottle of bubbly. Included are a pair of acrylic glasses, cloth napkins and a corkscrew. Any color you like, as long as it's black nylon (800-637-8953).
In fact, a Google search under "insulated wine carrier" turns up a broad selection of sites with packs perfect for picnics. 4Showers.com (800-823-3891) offers a "Two-Person Wine Case" ($40). It's a backpack design with separate insulated sections for food, dishes/utensils and a single bottle of wine. It, too, comes with two acrylic wine glasses, cloth napkins, a cutting board, cheese knife and wine corkscrew, and is available in either olive green or blue.
I first became intrigued with nylon wine carriers when I started seeing many of the salesmen around town using them. Sturdy wine suitcases, they are made for traveling, and come in four-, six- or even 12-bottle sizes. Now some winery tasting rooms have begun carrying them, featuring the winery logo, of course. Nothing wrong with that, but you will pay a premium price for the privilege of being a walking advertisement.
Happily, I found a Web site wineaccessory.com that offers a comprehensive selection of insulated, professional-caliber wine carriers, totes, backpacks and picnic totes, complete with everything but the ants.
Some highlights: a one-bottle bag, fully insulated nylon with a chill pack and shoulder strap (in ubiquitous black) costs $30; a fancier leather model ($55) comes in black or mahogany with two wine glasses, a bottle stopper, waiter's corkscrew and the mandatory matching cotton napkins.
Wineaccessory's two-bottle "Bodega" bag features a removable, insulated sleeve, a large front compartment for personal items, two outside open front pockets, an adjustable, removable shoulder strap and a secure buckle flap. Brown or forest tweed, $62. There are also two-bottle totes in gaudier, tapestry styles featuring embroidered grapes and heavenly beings.
Best of all are the "professional" four- and six-bottle bags, complete with insulated inserts, reusable chill packs and adjustable, removable, padded shoulder straps. You'll pay $69 for the four-bottle model and $88 if you want to schlep a half case. Your choice of two styles: "backpack" and "sales," the latter with room for pens, cards and paperwork. Want the top of the line? Go for the nine-bottle "Wine On Wheels" rolling, padded wine suitcase. It even has extra room for your clothes. Could be a whole new career! The toll-free number is 866-379-2554.
Finally, if you want the look and feel of real Corinthian leather, the Mulholland Brothers store in San Francisco (mulhollandbrothers.com) sells dee-luxe wine carriers that are beautifully made and breathtakingly expensive. The two-bottle carrier, in your choice of Lariat, Stout, Black Endurance with Stout trim, and Cactus Endurance with Lariat trim, will set you back three or four hundred dollars, depending upon which style you select. And who could resist Cactus Endurance? Sounds like a desert picnic to me. Toll-free at 877-685-4655.
Paul Gregutt is the author of "Northwest Wines" and a free-lance writer who regularly appears on the Wine pages of The Seattle Times' Wednesday Food section. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Barry Wong is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.
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