When it comes to selecting a wine you don’t know much about, I offer this advice, especially when it comes to imported wines: start with the back-side.
Frequently, someone who lives in a different part of the country than I do asks me for a wine recommendation. This can be difficult because each market generally offers different wines at different times. As a result, specific wines cannot be recommended with any degree of confidence that they will be available. So, more often than not, I recommend that people refer to the back label. In addition to carrying the obligatory government warning (whatever for!), the back label often tells us who the importer of the wine is. This is the important part.
A good importer devotes himself or herself to the tasks of ferreting out the very best from wherever it is that they work, then to shipping it to our shores with the utmost care and finally to seeing that it makes its way into the distribution chain at the right points. Not an easy job! But if it’s well done for one wine, it’s more than likely to be well done for an importer’s entire range. So I feel confident that my recommendation will be useful, as it is likely that something will be found from the importer that I can recommend, even if it’s not a specific bottle.
Furthermore, this is also a tool that I use as a sommelier. If, for example, I have had a Riesling from a producer that I really enjoyed and the back label identified Terry Thiesse as the importer, I will look to other wines from Terry. I trust that he has exacted the same high standards of selection on the other producers he’s chosen to represent. Some of the importers that I look to and recommend include: Terry Thiesse and Rudy Wiest for Germany and Austria (Terry also does some rocking Champagne!); The Sorting Table and Palm Bay Imports for French and Italian Wines; and Vias and Winebow for more Italian wines. Among others, Robert Chadderdon, Kermit Lynch and Eric Solomon have been doing great work for a long time.
This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list and there are certainly numerous exceptions, but the point is that this is a starting point. The back label is as worthy of our attention as the front. Happy hunting!
Thomas Gallagher — Napa, CA — March 18, 2008 5:29pm ET
Sandy Fitzgerald — Centennial, CO — March 19, 2008 5:21pm ET
Edward H Maass — Napa, CA — March 19, 2008 6:57pm ET
Brian Hartsfield — Chesterfield MO USA — March 25, 2008 8:06am ET
Larry Parker — Wesley Chapel, FL — March 25, 2008 11:22am ET
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