When I was pregnant with my son the first thing my husband wanted to do was name him (go technology! We knew we were having a boy), and so not a week later did we settle on a beautiful name we both loved. What joy! What fun! But little did I know this was all to a selfish end that my lovely other half had failed to mention. He wanted to work on a logo for our little guy — yes a logo, and it didn’t end there. He registered for an iCloud email address and settled on a witty Twitter handle. Oh darling, what the F? Eye roll.
Much to my dismay, I realized he is just like most new parents in that we want to embroider our new baby’s name on everything (beer koozies, really?), or, in extreme cases, create logos. We’re searching to find that identity so early. We think maybe we’ll try such-and-such brand to be like the skinny pretty-smelling lady with strangely awesome hair, or we only watch Pixar animated movies with our children because they’re funny and intelligent.
We’re brand-driven in so many everyday aspects of our life. Take the Guess jeans upside down triangle with the question mark in the center. Whoa. That was the sign of cool in the mid-'80s, right? I begged my parents for a pair of jeans with that stupid triangle. A triangle on my a**? Didn’t I know it was just going to make it look bigger?!
My point: we’re brainwashed by logos. We believe in the brand. We’re sheeple!
And so, if we buy sneakers with a swoosh and jeans with triangles, then why don’t we buy wine this way? Why is that? We shop by country, or grape, or what our sister had at her sister-in-law’s wedding. We avoid the obvious. We refuse to believe that if we turn that bottle over we’ll see the mark of a brand, or a logo even (damn logo), that will indicate to us that some person or some duo have worked hard to research, taste, choose, and organize a fine selection of wines on our behalf. They’re our saving grace so we don’t need to navigate these tricky waters — they’ve done the work. What we have to do is see if we enjoy what they’ve whittled down and if we do we can follow them to the ends of wine terroir. If we find an importer we jive with it can be like a well-paid-attention-to Pandora radio station. We can go back again and again to an endless well of tasty drink. Thumbs up.
Guess put that awesome forward-thinking outside label on the back of its jeans, so think of Guess jeans (it’s sort of creepy sounding, but do it!) when you shop for wine — look on the back pocket, so to speak, and get to know your wine importers. In the meantime, I’ve got several tried-and-true importers that I find choose quality wines that suit my taste and my ideals. These guys avoid the bad things and promote all the good. The bad things: wood chips, sugar, acidification, de-acidification, and stabilizers. The good things: we like hand-harvesting, wild yeasts, low yield, natural viticulture, and unique wines.
A few of my favorite national importers:
De Maison Selections focuses on mostly Spanish and some French producers. They are easy to recognize with both the name De Maison Selections on the back label, but more prominent is their logo of a porron — which is a vessel from the Basque region for drinking a very delicious wine called Txakoli. These guys are very clear that their mission is to find unique, high-quality wines made with integrity. They lay out clearly what constitutes integrity and have a set of guidelines they want to meet. These guys are my go-to on Spanish wines and well, French, too.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct focuses on Italian wine only. Slightly different than a traditional importer, these guys broker wine — they cut out the middle man and save us all money, and by us I mean the producer, you and me. These guys and one of their producers — Alois Lageder — are the single reason I love wines from the Alto Adige today. They broker other reputable, small, and delicious wines such as Adami, Selvapiana, Vietti, and Inama. They’re overall theme is conscientious — they deliver conscientious wines from kind and hard-working families.
Louis/Dressner: Joe Dressner was, to me, the first hippie of wine. He, unfortunately, is no longer with us, but his wife Denyse and their protegé and now partner, Kevin McKenna, keep Joe’s dream alive — to bring small producers with some crazy ideas (at the time) to America. They have strict principles they’d like producers to follow regarding the winemaking process — almost all natural. I like a lot of their French wines and their funky Friulian stuff.
Circo Vino: This is my Austrian importer of choice right now. They are also direct importers. The producers are top-notch and they bring us wines from winemakers who care about the land, the environment and grow/make wine that fits that list of "good" we care about. They’re relatively new, but man they’ve got me hooked on Rotgipfler.
SelectioNaturel + Zev Rovine: I’m going to try to throw in a hard-core natural wine importer here — these guys are just SF + NY/MA right now — almost national. They work together, but it’s hard to tell so for now they will be listed as their own entity. These are your almost fanatical importers of fine wines by really small producers, with some serious small production and some very stringent requirements on the natural process. They’re working hard though and the wines are quite unique. I like their French and Italian stuff so far.
Now, remember, there are small local importers too and each state may have some really excellent small importers you shouldn’t overlook. In my home state of Massachusetts we’re lucky to have more than half-dozen amazing small importers, so keep turning your bottles around, investigate back labels on wines you enjoy and ask your retailer to tell you more about them.
Liz Vilardi is the owner and wine director at the Blue Room, Belly Wine Bar, and Central Bottle Wine + Provisions.