There has been plenty said about the best wines for the grill, the perfect rosés for summer, the wine rules to follow and the wine rules to break. And there’s never been a shortage of sommeliers ready to tackle those questions.
So we decided to make those questions a little bit harder (bring me a bargain bottle that improves with age), add a catch (the summer wine can’t be rosé) and, most importantly, consult not one sommelier, but two, for some helpful—and preferably, unconventional—wine advice.
To kick off this late summer challenge, we went bicoastal, calling on Eric Railsback, partner in Santa Barbara’s Lieu Dit winery and sommelier at San Francisco’s Mason Pacific, and Amanda Smeltz, wine director of New York’s Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud. Here, in no particular order, are their picks for go-to beach wines that can be drunk over ice, a pair of bargain sparklers that’ll drink like Champagne, a handful of age-worthy whites and the best wine lists in the world.
Name a go-to beach wine you can chug cold, one that’s under $25 and that you’re totally happy to throw ice into as it warms up. And it can’t be rosé.
Eric Railsback: First off, after spending a lot of time in Austria, I am totally cool throwing ice or soda water in my wine. My favorite beach wine at a good price would be the Canary Islands’ dry Malvasia from Los Bermejos.
Amanda Smeltz: Man, I wanted to be a jerk and be like, “It’s never okay to put ice in your wine, just actually bring a little cooler and ice packs, you amateur,” but then I thought about how many times I’ve stood at a bar pass and demanded that one of my bartenders RIGHT NOW MAKE MOMMY A SPRITZ and I realized that it’s indeed me putting ice and all other kinds of nonsense into my wine.
That said, there are many delicious and playful pét-nat sparklers being made in the U.S. which are fairly inexpensive. You just have to make sure to get wines that are more clean than funky. [If the producer] nails it, they taste like fruit-Sprite-foamy-party zone. An example I love: Birichino’s Malvasia from the Santa Cruz area.
Name two bargain bottles, one red and one white, that’ll improve after ten years and can be purchased for $50 or less, total.
ER: In my mind, the two most age-worthy varietals that are undervalued are riesling and syrah. My picks would be the Peter Lauer Riesling ‘Senior’ 2015 and Clape Syrah Vins des Amis. Both wines I try and drink as much as possible, and older examples always find a way to amaze.
AS: Italy is a great place to look for wines like these, since a lot of the regions and grape varieties are obscure or lesser-known to most drinkers. Therefore, even the age-worthy wines are less expensive. For red, I’d recommend the tiny appellation of Boca in the Alto Piemonte. There, nebbiolo-dominant reds are floral, herbal, earthy, with the tannin and acid to last long-term. I love Castello Conti’s wines.
For white, I’ve been loving the argument against people who say Italy makes no great white wine. (People actually say this.) When it’s made in versions meant to last, verdicchio from Le Marche wows me. The remarkable Fattoria San Lorenzo makes a whole range of these whites that will probably last 20 years, all of them. The entry-level “Vigna di Gino” goes for around $18.
If you had to stock one red and one white for the rest of your life—assuming you’d drink nothing else—what would you pick? One rule: It has to be under $20.
ER: I would have to go with Loimer ‘lois’ Gruner Veltliner, which clocks in at $13 retail and never gets old. The red is a bit more difficult, but I would pick Faury Syrah VDP ‘Les Rhodaniennes’ from the Rhône, which is $18.
AS: Can I pick two whites? There aren’t any reds I’d want to drink nothing else of. This makes me an outcast among Big Red Drinkin’ Dads everywhere.
I would drink forever the Hofgut Falkenstein’s Saar Riesling, in the kabinett-trocken style (from any of their vineyards, in any of the years they make them). Falkenstein’s kabi-trockens feel like ribbons fashioned from crystal. They are fairy wines. They are better for your body than water. And they are like 14 friggin’ dollars.
I’d always and forever stock a bottle of fino sherry. El Maestro Sierra makes some of my favorites in all of Jerez; their fino is $18 or so. Salty, savory, popping with acid and citrus—it tastes like the beach and pairs with everything.
You’re at a party and you need to punk people into thinking that your bottle of non-Champagne, valued at $30 or less, is Champagne. What do you pick?
ER: I would just go with a bottle of NV Breton Brut Vouvray. Made in the Champagne style and it’s delicious. I would drink it over Champagne in many cases.
AS: Very cool blanc de noirs made with the exact same methods as Champagne, just in different parts of the world, can taste like a dead ringer for the good stuff. Shelter, a lovely winery in [Germany’s] Baden, makes a Champagne-method wine all from pinot noir that is savory, rich, and elegant.
What one thing would you be happy to see disappear from wine lists forever?
ER: I have never once found myself being able to appreciate pinotage from South Africa. Burnt tire rubber has never been my jam, and if I never had to taste it again, I would be OK with that.
AS: A restaurant guest asked me recently for “thick, chewy American Cab.” Verbatim. Y’all, the experience of drinking a thing is not supposed to be like gnawing the core of an oak tree slathered in fudge. That can go away.
For the rest of your life, you can drink wine—plus one other beverage. What is it?
ER: I would probably classify Modelo as water and choose an Aperol Spritz as the one drink. It’s good to keep it light.
AS: Micheladas. They’re a great vehicle for gross quantities of hot sauce and lime.
The greatest wine list in the world:
ER: I would have to say my favorite wine list in the world is Charlie Bird in NYC. There are a lot of great museum lists that are fun to look at, but none get me to pull the trigger like CB. Proper glassware and service is also an important factor that gets overlooked way too often. Note: Loud Jay-Z music in the background might have something to do with [it].
AS: I have a tie:
One, Gramercy Tavern’s—it spans the breadth of traditional and classical wines and regions, celebrates well-made American wine and quietly offers a selection of up-and-coming producers and more “unorthodox” items. Importantly, GT’s list doesn’t gouge on price. And the service is humble: You can get a $45 bottle, and you will be treated with equal care as the high-rollers.
Two, that of Bistrot Paul Bert in Paris. Stacked with excellent and small French producers, the list hosts many who are parceled out and allocated here, therefore hard-to-get. Also, the prices reflect the lack of expense that comes from importing and distributing stateside, so it’s a ton of fun (read: inexpensive) to drink from. Best of all, the whole wine program feels analog and loved-on; they still cross out items on the wine list when they’re 86’d with a pencil and ruler. Art school kids, you gonna love it.