Is there an easier way to boost the fun of a meal than by turning it into a picnic?

The other day, we were about to dine on our patio when we decided to sit on the grass beside it instead; it was as if we’d teleported to Tuscany. The mood felt freer, the talk more expansive, the food more direct.

The wine got uncomplicated. It’s in that spirit that I want to explore some terrific picnic wines. I set a few somewhat arbitrary parameters: under $12, screwtop, mostly white. Arbitrary because a picnic would be splendid with a $75 bottle of Puligny-Montrachet, a corkscrew’s easy enough to remember, and plenty of meals on a beach blanket could sing with only red wine.

Still, these guidelines cultivate a spirit of picnic-y ease, lightness and joy. Of course, you don’t even need to “have a picnic” to enjoy these; think of them more as access to a picnic of the mind — the sense that time is less constricted and life is truer when lived closer to the ground.

One more thing: Trust the path of lower alcohol levels. Several of these clock in at 12 percent or under, which give them enormous advantage in the face of spicy, varied foods and the heat of the sun.

(Note: In parentheses after each wine is the name of its Maine distributor, to aid stores in ordering it. Prices may vary, depending on where you shop.)

Undone Dry Riesling 2008, Reinhessen, Germany, $11 (Central). I recently opened this and several others — sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, viognier, a couple of blends — before a group with little interest in or knowledge of wine. Undone was the first to empty, and garnered the most appreciation. It is that approachable, that unpretentious, that good.

The Undone reminds me of Strunk and White’s famous dictum that the best writing “omit(s) needless words.” Bracingly steely but like steel wool (or wet felt). It’s slick, tingly and lemony — pure flavor, stripped to essentials. Alcohol: 11.5 percent.

Dancing Coyote Verdelho 2009, Clarksburg, Calif., $11 (SoPo). For something completely different, this is full-bodied and ripe — perfect for foods with mayo, corn, Mexican-style bean salads, chicken salad and to-go items with multi-flavors. There’s honeysuckle and apple, but this is way better than most chardonnays out there, with similar profiles on paper, because of its popping acidic cut and ultra-important integration.

Sangre de Toro Viña Sol 2009, Catalunya, Spain, $9 (National). Another 11.5-percent-alcohol white, the plastic-bull-adorned Sangre de Toro bottles have been around for 50 years, so you might be tempted to pass them by. But they’re far from staid, and deserve attention. This white has a telltale Spanish nose — aromatic with white peach, vanilla and biscuit. On the palate, it skinnies up and adds a touch of smoked nuts, finishing high and long. What a lot of chardonnay/viognier drinkers are really looking for. (The Sangre de Toro Tempranillo, a red for the same price, is a dandy picnic wine as well.)

Quinta de Bons-Ventos 2007, Estremadura, Portugal, $9 (Central). Many an inexpensive Portuguese wine is woefully unbalanced, overly oaked and just generally ashamed of itself. Here’s an exception, with a terrific balance of berries and pepper. Restrained oak aging brings the indigenous grapes into sharp relief rather than distorting them, Auto Tune-style. If your picnic includes roasted/grilled veggies and cheeses, this is perfect.

Austrian Cherry 2008, Niederosterreich, Austria, $15 (Nappi). I know I said I’d stay under $12, but permit this brief, worthwhile exception. The indigenous Austrian grape zweigelt is due for a renaissance, and no time like the summer for that. A compact, light- to medium-bodied wine with soft tannins, the cherries and violets at its heart are perfect for your Sunday loll amid wildflowers, a shady tree, some cold roasted chicken and a bowl of — yeah, — cherries for dessert.

 

Joe Appel’s day job is doing a lot of different things at Rosemont Market and Bakery. He can be reached at: [email protected].