EASTON, Md. — March, 2, 2011 —How do you select your wines? Look online for ideas? Solicit suggestions from friends? Use visual cues like catchy labels?
Well, one of the best and most sure-fire ways to make a good selection is to ignore the front label and turn 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’ll leverage 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 wine scout.
Three Tiers Before Your Table
A “three tier system” is used to distribute wines in most states, including Maryland. Wineries transform grapes into wine, which is then sold to distributors.
In Maryland, for instance, only distributors are legally allowed to sell wine to retailers (e.g. wine stores 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. 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 you save researching and tasting wines from each of these vineyards!
Message On The Bottle
The importer is usually listed on the back label but occasionally on the front. If you find a wine you love, make sure to not only note the winery name but also the importer. While distributors vary from state to state, the importer is your constant.
Many distributors have excellent websites with information on producers, wines and who distributes them in each state. If you encounter a favorite wine traveling overseas, it can be trickier since not all wines are imported to the Unites 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 will 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 learn their palate and their philosophy. Work with your retailer to target a few importers that may fit your needs. Then ask for wine suggestions to taste as research.
Here are a few of my favorite importers for France, Italy and Spain but this is by no means a comprehensive list—that would take a whole book to cover!
Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, CA
Louis Dressner Selections, New York, NY
Marc de Grazia Selections, Florence, Italy
Empson & Co., Alexandria, VA
Verdoni Imports, Hawthorne, NJ
Eric Solomon Selections, Charlotte, NC
Jorge Ordóñez, Dedham, MA
So next time you’re tempted to purchase a bottle a wine because of its cool label, remember it’s what’s on the back that really matters when it comes to quality.
Laurie Forster, The Wine Coach®, is a wine educator and author of the award-winning book “The Sipping Point: A Crash Course in Wine.” Her specialty is delivering wine edu-tainment for corporate events, group tastings and team-building seminars. She is also a sought after guest expert on radio shows across the country, including Martha Stewart Radio. Her Online Web Workshop Pick The Perfect Wine Every Time begins March 28th and is open for enrollment.
Read more of Laurie’s work at The Sipping Point in the Communities at the Washington Times.
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