Peter Eastlake, who curates the wine tent at the outside lands music festival, loves tracking down great values. Here, his picks for everyday drinking and summer entertaining.
For almost a decade, you’ve only carried wines under $25 in your East Bay stores, Vintage Berkeley. Has finding good inexpensive wines gotten harder?
I’d say the number of good wines under $25 has actually increased. Even Pinot Noir. Today, I’m able to stock six or seven Pinots at $18 to $25 that are really good: site-expressive, great-quality wines, like the 2013 Luli from the Santa Lucia Highlands or the 2013 Banshee from Sonoma County. I could not find those wines nine years ago.
Bargain Pinot that’s good? Who’s making these?
The assistant winemakers and cellar rats of 10 years ago, much of the time. They don’t own vineyards, they don’t have mortgages, they’re making wines at custom-crush facilities—and in the end, they can get wine onto shelves at a better price.
What specific regions of California do you think of first when it comes to great values?
Mendocino for one. There are some old-vine Carignanes from long-established vineyards that are really great. Potter Valley has some fun old-vine wines, too. I also like Paso Robles. Eight or nine years ago, if you tasted through a heap of Paso wines, you got a lot of bruiser, hulked-up bottlings. Occasionally, you still do, but some of these young guys who work for vineyard management companies—who know where there’s one acre of this, or half an acre of that—they’re doing exciting stuff. Like Rory Williams at Calder Wine Company and Andrew Jones with his Field Recordings wines.
Are there bargains in Europe’s top wine regions?
I drink a ton of under-$25 Dolcetto and Barbera from Piedmontese producers like G.D. Vajra and Vietti. Even Barolo and Barbaresco, when you put them next to French and Napa Valley blue chips, are good values. I don’t mind spending $65 on Ettore Germano’s Barolo Prapò, for instance; it’s got power, elegance and Nebbiolo deliciousness all wrapped up together, plus I’m getting a wine that will age beautifully for decades. That sort of thing from Burgundy, forget it. You’d pay twice as much.
I usually don’t associate wine with rock festivals, but you’ve created a great program at Outside Lands—what’s that like?
The Wine Lands tent is like an ornate, tricked-out airplane hangar. In 2014, we had 36 wineries pouring, from well-known producers like J. Lohr to boutique names like Broc Cellars and Sean Thackrey. As soon as the gates open, people fly in. We’re really lucky to have found the right sort of synergy. At Bonnaroo in Tennessee—which I’m also usually at and which I love—wine wouldn’t work at all. It’s 95 degrees there, and you’re in the middle of a field.
I grew up in Houston, where it’s 95 degrees all summer. What wines are good for climates like that?
White wines that are thirst-quenching and food-friendly, like Riesling. Rosé can hang with either a steak or a salad, so that’s a must. And for reds, I lean toward wines that have vibrant, fresh-berry tastes versus heavy-duty tannins, oak or alcohol: Gamay, Dolcetto, Barbera, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Mondeuse, Zweigelt, even some lower-alcohol Zinfandels. And if you have more than eight people at a party, definitely serve at least one magnum.
Rosé in magnum is a trend—is that silly or cool?
I love big bottles of rosé. One great example is the Domaine de Fontsainte Corbières Gris de Gris that [wine importer] Kermit Lynch brings in. That wine’s $35 in magnum. You plunk that down into a cooler full of ice and people go bonkers: “Whoo! Let’s open it up!”
Do you have any advice about chilling wine?
Don’t serve white and rosé too, too cold—you don’t want it icy or you’ll mute any nuance or complexity. But do toss reds in the ice bucket for a few minutes. Drinking 80-degree red wine is really unpleasant.
What about the big, rich reds of the world—do people still want them?
Absolutely. The fleshier, sweeter, stronger wines still wow people; they win the buff-body competition. But every day, people in our shops will ask, “What’s the alcohol content?” Ten years ago, I don’t remember that ever happening. Look, we’re all trying to lead healthier lives, and 15.4 percent alcohol is tough. I’m past 40 now, I’ve got two kids and I don’t drink Châteauneuf anymore—the alcohol’s listed at 14.5 percent on the label, but it’s really 15.1. That’s going to destroy me.
Peter Eastlake Picks 7 Wines to Try Now
Nv Marietta Cellars Lot Number 62 Old Vine Red ($14)
“Marietta has some smoking wines right now—they’re just killing it. This is a bold Northern Sonoma red that’s very hard to resist, loaded with ripe, chewy, lusty, dusty fruit. It may be my favorite all-around California red at this price.”
2013 Edmunds St. John Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir ($22)
“This wine seems to get better every year; I don’t know how Steve Edmunds can keep that up, because the 2013 is nearly perfect. It’s hard to believe you can get a low-alcohol, juicy, minerally red like this from the hot Sierra Foothills.”
2013 Luli Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir ($24)
“Luli’s 2013 vintage is a pure red-fruited, seriously delicious value California Pinot Noir: sun-kissed, fog-shrouded Santa Lucia fruit with the mark of one of California’s greatest grape growers—Gary Pisoni—all over it.”
2013 Wind Gap Trousseau Gris ($24)
“The last few vintages of this white have been epic. Sonoma winemaker Pax Mahle ferments this wine in concrete eggs for additional texture and depth. We pour it on tap at Outside Lands.”
2012 Vietti Tre Vigne Barbera D’alba ($25)
“Tre Vigne has been one of my go-to wines for probably 15 years. I love its purple juiciness, plum-berry flavors and great acidity. Luca Currado, Vietti’s winemaker and owner, just makes amazing wines.”
2012 Calder Wine Company Carignane ($28)
“Unbelievable wine. It’s around 14 percent alcohol but somehow still dark and intense. The powerful, stony grip reminds me of the wines of southeastern France’s Roussillon region.”
2014 Red Car Rosé of Pinot Noir ($28)
“The 2013 of this wine was a summer hit at my store, and the 2014 is even better. Plus, they also bottle it in magnums, which is great for parties. Lively and low-alcohol (12.7 percent), it’s full of bright grapefruit and cherry notes.”