We’ve all done it: the wine shop is too full of bottles, we have too little time to browse, we have too much going on, and so we just pick a wine with an attractive label. You may feel sheepish and apologize for it or you might try to defend your strategy, but in any case, it’s one surefire way to whittle down choices.
It’s not the only way, either. We all have heuristics for choosing a wine from the sometimes-overwhelming multitude and that’s smart—a wine from a producer you know you like or a wine from a region with a style you dig is more likely to satisfy than a random bottle off the shelf.
But there’s another way to select what you’re drinking, a method you might not be as familiar with that can work just as well. The importer of a wine often has as much, if not more, correlation with the taste of a wine than many other factors, including producer, grape variety, region, or vintage. How can that be? Simply put, the importer’s job is to try ALL THE WINES. There is a real human being visiting actual wineries, tasting which wines are for sale, and deciding which taste good enough to bring to here. If a wine is subpar or overpriced, the importer won’t bother with it. Every wine on the shelf at the store has been preapproved by someone as worthy of consumption. So all you have to do the next time you find a wine that’s incredible is turn over the bottle and see who’s importing it!
There are plenty of different importers, but if you start to notice the same name over and over again, it’s a safe bet that your tastes line up well with those of the importer. It reminds me of a movie reviewer—you may find your interests align with someone like Roger Ebert often enough to pay attention to his opinion.
Which brings us to the importers themselves.
Kermit Lynch really got the ball rolling in the late 1980s with the publication of Adventures on the Wine Route and the spotlight it shone on the how the decisions and personal tastes of the importer affect what shows up on shelves at home. Since then, there has been increasing interest in individual importers such as Louis/Dressner, Peter Weygandt, Robert Kacher, Terry Theise, Eric Solomon, Neal Rosenthal, Jorge Ordonez, and companies like Hand-Picked Selections, Beaune Imports, Pasternak, De Maison, and Martine’s. These are not monolithic, multi-billion-dollar organizations with a faceless bureaucracy bringing in cheap, garbage bulk wine and pandering to the masses—these are people and small companies staking their ground for unique wines that fit their idea of what it means to be delicious.
And now we have cause for celebration, as there’s another option available to Ohio wine consumers: the Spanish-based importer Aviva Vino. New to the Ohio market this year, the brainchild of Antonio Santofimia focuses on sustainable and natural wines mostly from Spain. They began in 2009 with a handful of wineries they thought were underserved and underappreciated in America and have partnered with more over the years to expand their portfolio. If you’ve enjoyed anything from Bodegas Luzon, Mano a Mano, Naia, or Bodegas Protos recently, you can thank Aviva Vino for that.
More options for the consumer are always good, and having another national importer here in Columbus does exactly that. Hopefully turning over the bottle and noting who’s bringing you your booze gives everyone another method of deciding which drink to take home tonight.
Landon Proctor is Stock & Barrel’s incredibly talented, ass-kicking and
supremely humble wine specialist. Find out more about him at landonproctor.com.