People often ask me how I’m able to find such great wines. How do I know where to look? What to buy? Other oenophiles have an astounding memory for producer names and the remote villages from which they hail. The truth is that I’m terrible at remembering the names of wines I love or have read about and want to try. I rely on wine labels – particularly, the backs of them. I look for the name of the importer, a person or company whose taste I trust.
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Wine importers are the gatekeepers of great juice. Think of them as that cool friend who still goes to live music shows every weekend and knows the best bands before Pitchfork drops a high score. They have done the legwork for you and can introduce you to stuff they know you’ll like. Small, independent wine importers often specialize in a particular type of wine – be it wine from a specific country or region, or made organically or biodynamically.
I have roughly half a dozen wine importers I keep an eye out for. They specialize in everything from Austrian to Spanish to natural wines to grower champagne. All I need is to see their name on the back of the bottle and I’m confident I’ll at least appreciate the wine and very likely outright love it. Here are six wine importers you should look out for:
Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant
Based in Berkeley, the California native opened his wine company in 1972. At first, he sold California wines as part of his portfolio. Eventually, as these wines became synonymous with big, jammy fruit, oak and high alcohol, he focused on French and Italian wines. Kermit Lynch has since become an ambassador for terroir, that elusive French term that refers to the soil, climate and human tradition associated with a given region that is reflected in the wines from that region. He also came to specialize in organic and biodynamic wines. kermitlynch.com
Joe Dressner was a cantankerous, opinionated man who hated many wines – especially, overmanipulated ones. In 1988, he founded an import business with his Burgundian wife, Denyse Louis, dedicated to seeking out the wines they loved: true wines, made with minimal intervention on the part of the winemaker. Dressner passed away in 2011, but his legacy lives on through his company, which still focuses on bringing in wines made with wild yeasts, hand-harvested grapes farmed organically (though not necessarily certified) and limited manipulation in the winemaking process. louisdressner.com
American Natural Wines
Jenny & François Selections
Jenny Lefcourt and François Ecot may not have been compatible as husband and wife, but their shared taste in wine has been a boon both for them and their customers. They have remained business partners, launching their wine company in 2000, specializing in what some deem “hardcore” natural wines. These are wines that go beyond organics or biodynamics to eschew most or all additives, filtering, even sulfites, which are almost always added to wine to avoid spoiling. Most natural wines hail from Europe, but in recent years, they've found American renegades making these wines. jennyandfrancois.com
José Pastor Selections
Not long ago, Spanish wines were considered the cheaper alternative to French or Italian. Today, wines from Spain have come a long way. So much so, that a young Spanish expat now living in the Bay Area based his entire import business on the premise that Americans want more great Spanish wines. José Pastor specializes in what he calls “farmer-made” wines. These are wines that showcase the Spanish terroir, not covering it up with commercial yeasts or heavy oak treatments. Find grapes you’ve never heard of from Tenerife to Galicia in this portfolio. josepastorselections.com
Monika Caha Selections
Founded in 2003 by an Austrian living in New York, Monika Caha is not quite an importer, but rather a wine agent. Caha started her company as a way to bring a beloved Austrian product to America. Like the other importers on this list, she seeks out terroir-driven wines made by hand, without too much manipulation, and with an eye to harmony with the environment. Get all the riesling, grüner veltliner and müller thurgau you can handle in this portfolio. mcselections.com
He was a James Beard award-winning wine writer who decided to turn his talents towards importing. Terry Theise now has a portfolio of German and Austrian wines and champagnes under importer Michael Skurnik Wines’ banner. As a writer, Theise used wit and humor to champion small producers in his favorite regions. As an importer, he touts “farmer fizz:” champagnes made by independent grape growers instead of the big, famous houses. You might even say he pioneered the grower champagne revolution. skurnikwines.com
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