Ask Doctor Drinks: Picnic Drinks

Published on 14 January 2022

Photo: Win your next picnic with Doctor Drinks' rug-ready drops.

Dear Doctor Drinks 

I’m going to a picnic with a lot of people who like their drinks as organic as their haircuts – what’s a bottle that’s sure to win me the Best in Esky prize?”

– Lucy M, Gippsland 

Picking the right drink to bring to a party is a fun but at times challenging task, particularly if your friends know their Beaujolais from their Bordeaux. You might have noticed the term 'natural wine' the last few times you walked the aisles of your favourite bottle shop. It's a title that even avid wine followers debate the meaning of. With natural wines making their way into many local watering holes, how do you know which one to pick? While they're all delicous, they're not all created equal (or even made similarly). This goes for beer and spirits as well: what makes a preservative-free lager or an organic gin different from their counterparts?

Depending on who you ask, natural wine can mean many things. Are we looking for organic fruit? Or preservative-free? No sulphur? Or just something made with biodynamic practices? All of this can (and does) sound incredibly intimidating. It’s hard to know what to ask for when you don’t know the lingo. As a doctor of drinks, I’m all about breaking down barriers and making your drinks of choice more accessible. To help you in your quest for your next natural wine purchase (or thoughtfully made beer or spirit), I’ve created a round-up of some of my favourite producers, along with a little glossary of key “organic speak” terms to help you next time you head to the bottle-o.

Wine

John Nagorcka’s Hochkirch in western Victoria is a temple of biodynamic winemaking practices. Nagorcka is a staunch believer in the impact biodynamic methods have on both soil health and the flavours produced in his wines. If you haven't already, do yourself a favour and grab a bottle of his Hochkirch blanc, it’s a surprising drop that’s great value for money. Heading up north to Beechworth, biodynamic producers Pennyweight are known for their Spanish-style fortified wines, however, my personal pick is their gamay: juicy, with a touch of spice. If you like your light red cold, this one can happily take a quick chill in the fridge. 

If you’ve been to any independent bottle shops over the last few years, you might have seen the colourful labels of Minimum Wines, and been shocked at how affordable they are. These guys are certified organic and vegan; a quick scroll of their website and it’s abundantly clear they take natural winemaking seriously. While their red is a crowd favourite, my pick is the chardonnay. It satisfies all the drinkers that chase buttery richness but has enough brightness to balance it all out. 

Little Reddie's Super Juice seems to be the drink of summer 2022. Made using 100 per cent nebbiolo, this dark rose will get any party started. 

I simply couldn’t call this a natural wine round-up without including a bottle of pét nat: the natural winemaker’s sparkling drink du jour. Terrason in the Yarra Valley are making some great examples of the style in both red and white. Approachable and easy to drink, they’re the perfect bottles to bring to your next picnic. Another is Bobar, who have been making natural wine in Victoria since 2010, and have produced many exciting vintages. This year, my pick is the complex and smooth cabernet – something to drink after you’ve maxed out on the juicy stuff. 

Beer and Spirits

Mountain Goat has been at the forefront of the craft beer scene in Victoria since its inception, and their Organic Steam Ale is the perfect sessionable beer for drinks in the park. It’s pure refreshment in a glass (or bottle). Down in the Otways, Prickly Moses have been brewing an interesting selection of preservative-free craft beers for over a decade. My pick of the bunch is their Otway Light. Sitting at just under mid-strength, it’s a great beer to have with friends if you feel like taking it easy. Another Otways local is Otways Distillery, who use 100 per cent certified organic ingredients in their gin, vodka, moonshine, and limoncello. Bringing a full bottle of gin, tonic water, ice, and garnishes can feel like a bit too much for a picnic, so I would recommend grabbing a four-pack of their pre-mixed gin, lemon, and soda to enjoy cross-legged on the grass.

Two Bays is a double-hitter: preservative and gluten-free. I’ve been told by my coeliac friends that this is one of the best gluten alternative beers on the market, and I’ve happily polished off a few myself. If sour beers are more your vibe, Dainton are preservative-free brewers and their Flamingo Pink Lemonade Sour is tart and summery. 

I won't stop you from taking this round-up to your local and treating it like a shopping list (bonus points for printing it out, how retro), but my greatest suggestion to help you on your quest for the lo-fi wine, beer or spirit of your dreams is to ask the staff in your shop of choice. These are the people tasting and talking about booze for a living and will be perfectlty placed to help you find what you're looking for. Take a few key words from me and start asking questions about the next bottle or can that catches your eye.

Preservative-free: No preservatives are added to the wine/beer/spirit. This does not include the raw materials: grapes for wine, hops and barley for beer, grain for spirits.

Sulphur free: Sulphur is a preservative that both naturally occurs in wine and can be added to wine to increase both shelf life and stability; confusing, I know. 

Organic: This refers to the raw materials used to make the drinks, and means they are free from man-made herbicides and pesticides. 

Biodynamic: As with the term “organic”, this refers to the raw materials used to make the drinks. “Biodynamic” means synthetic pesticides are avoided and the quality of the soil is prioritised to create happier and healthier plants.

By Claire Adey

Got a question for Doctor Drinks? Hit her up at claire@foodanddrinkvic.com.au

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