10 Jan Shortcut to Picking the Perfect Wine
How do you select your wines? Perhaps you look online for ideas, use an app, or get suggestions from friends. Or maybe you do what 47% of people do and look for a pretty label or one with a cute critter like a monkey or a penguin. How could that go wrong?!
Instead of looking at the front label, I suggest turning the bottle around to see who imported the wine. Knowing key importers is a secret shortcut that wine professionals use to find great wines from all over the world. You are leveraging the experience, knowledge, and palate of someone who has toured extensively, picking only the wines they want to represent. Think of the importer as your personal wine scout.
Three Tiers Before Your Table
A “three tier system” is used to distribute wines in most states, including my home state of Maryland. Wineries transform grapes into wine which is then sold to distributors. In Maryland, only distributors are legally allowed to sell wine to retailers (e.g. wine or grocery stores) and restaurants. In this three-tier system, wineries are the first tier, distributors are the second tier, and the point of sale (restaurant or retail) is the third tier.
With foreign wines, the importer acts as agent for many different wineries helping them market and secure distribution for their wines. Without importers, only large wineries would have the resources to be represented on our wine shelves.
The importer’s reputation is directly linked to the quality of the wines they represent, which is an incentive for importers to hunt down the best wines. It would be impractical to adequately specialize in the entire world of wine, so importers usually focus on a region or stylistic focus. Finding an importer with a palate for the wines YOU enjoy gives you hundreds or thousands of wines from which to choose. Think of the time this will save you! Instead of researching wines from several vineyards, you can be sipping the finalists!
Message On The Bottle
The importer is usually listed on the back label but occasionally on the front. When you find a wine you love, make sure to note the winery name AND the importer. While distributors vary from state to state, the importer is your constant. Many importers have excellent websites with information on producers, wines, and who distributes them in each state.
If you encounter a favorite wine while traveling overseas, locating it when you return home can be tricky since not all wines are imported to the United States. If you visit the wineries, ask if they are distributed here, and, if so, by whom.
Sadly, that tasty Rosé you sipped in southern France could remain a precious memory unless you tucked a few bottles into your suitcase (and declared them at customs, of course).
Taste in wine is personal. One man’s Yellowtail may be another man’s Opus One. Even a table full of wine experts can sometimes have trouble finding consensus. What is important is finding the right wine scout (aka importer) for YOU. To do this, you need to learn the palates and philosophies of the importers of the wines you enjoy. Work with your retailer to target a few importers that may fit your needs. Then ask for wine suggestions to taste as research.
So, next time you think to purchase a wine because of its cool label—remember it’s what’s on the back label that can give you a clue to picking the perfect wine every time!
Here are a few of my favorite importers but this is by no means a comprehensive list—that would take a whole book to cover.
European Cellars – Eric Solomon
Louis/Dressner Selections – Natural Wines
Did I miss any of your favorites? Let me know in the comments below so we can create a more comprehensive list!