Sommeliers are experts at serving wine in restaurants. But they also know how to better enjoy wine in other settings, outside the dining room. Eater spoke with sommeliers from around the country to find out their tips for taking wine to a picnic, the beach or a backyard barbecue.
1) Plan to Chill: "Chill your wine at home, before you go out. It takes a while for wine to cool down, especially if it's fighting for space in a crowded ice bucket" suggests Steve Wildy, the beverage director of Philadelphia’s Vetri Family Restaurants. "This is no brainer for whites, but I also put a chill on my reds before heading out" he adds, because the wine can heat up on the way to the destination.
2) Lose the Sediment: If a wine is throwing a lot of sediment, often the case with older or very extracted wine, Mark Sayre, the service director of Austin’s ELM Restaurant Group, proposes decanting the bottle before leaving the house. Double decanting—pouring the wine from the decanter back into the original bottle after cleaning out the sediment—is his preference. "The wine should be double decanted back into the bottle," he says, since carrying a bottle on the go is much easier than carrying a big decanter.
"The wine should be double decanted back into the bottle."
3) Taste Before the Trip: Shawn Paul of Corkbuzz in Charlotte, North Carolina also suggests opening the bottle at home, but he advises checking for TCA—otherwise known as cork taint—before taking off with no other options in hand. For those who taste before leaving the house, "there will be no surprises," and if necessary one will have the opportunity to select another bottle.
4) Ditch that Bottle: Erin Scala, sommelier at Charlottesville’s Fleurie Restaurant, recommends ditching the original wine bottle altogether. "Decant your wine into a glass water bottle with colored glass and a twist-off cap (such as Saratoga or San Pellegrino)," she suggests, as those caps are easier to reseal and more secure in a bag. And a water bottle is a little less conspicuous.
5) Go Halfsies: Steve Morgan, wine director at Formento’s in Chicago, especially likes the convenience of half bottles when outside the restaurant. "Half bottles of Champagne and Burgundy will fit comfortably into a beer koozie," which helps with temperature control. And, half bottles are easy to carry.
6) Bring the Right Tools: For those who plan to open the bottle after leaving home, Master Sommelier Gillian Ballance suggests making sure the necessary tools are in tow. Especially for older bottles, make sure to "have an Ah-So on hand." Those two prong cork pullers can help get especially troublesome corks out of the bottle, and because they aren’t found everywhere, tracking one down can be a challenge.
7) Pick What You Like: Liz Mendez, co-owner of Chicago’s Vera, likes to bring her own wine because it presents her the opportunity to try less obvious pairings. There might be lots of red wine options at a barbecue, but what about thinking outside the box with a little sherry? "Amontillado with ‘cue is a favorite summer BYO," says Mendez, who feels that those who want to drink what they like sometimes need to bring it along.
"Half bottles of Champagne and Burgundy will fit comfortably into a beer koozie."
8) Choose Wine That Goes With Everything: "My standard go-to is a magnum of Champagne, which works with everything from potato chips through dinner," explains Bobby Stuckey of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado. A choice that is flexible and can pair nicely with all kinds of foods is handy when a menu is unknown.
9) Think About the Whole Group: Bill Fitch of Brooklyn’s Vinegar Hill House likes to make sure that if he will be drinking in a big group, he doesn’t bring a wine so rare it might inspire FOMO (fear of missing out). He recognizes that if he brings one special bottle to a big group of people, not everyone is going to get a chance to try it. Why hurt the feelings of those who don’t get a glass? Honestly, "wines that most closely approximate juice work best," he admits. With larger events and warmer days, easygoing wines can be the way to go.
10) It’s Not Just the Wine: Many sommeliers also mentioned the importance of planning ahead. Will wine glasses be available at the given location? If not, how can one bring glasses over and get them back? An option is to drop off a box of glasses the day before the event. Another is to pack them separated by magazines, so that the glasses don’t bang into each other and break in transport.