EducateShopping by Wine Importer – Names You Should Know 

Shopping by Wine Importer – Names You Should Know 

If you’re like me, then you feel like a kid in a candy store when you walk into a wine shop. You like taking the bottle in your hand, looking at the label, and chatting with the wine geeks on staff. It’s the same way a person likes to go into a bookstore and get the tactile feeling of holding a book, rather than going online and clicking away. But, what if you’re in a wine shop and no one is around to help?

Shopping for wine, whether in a big box store, or a mom-and-pop type of place, can be daunting. So many grapes! So many countries! So many syllables! This label has a classic country vineyard with a castle in it, and that label has a Gollum-type monster playing chess! Maybe you recognize the grape name on one label but have no idea about the producer or country. What do you pick? 

Pro-Wine Shopping Tip 

Even for a seasoned cork dork like me, shopping for wines* can be overwhelming. But there’s a great way to shop that you might not have thought of.  Instead of looking first at the front label, turn it over to the back. There you’ll find the most prized piece of info you can get:  The importer! There are countless wine importers and selectors** that bring in at least 50 or more countries’ wines into the US, and each one has a specific specialty and style of wine. Some companies date back to the 1970s and some only formed 10 years ago, but all have a crew of amazingly talented people with the finest wine palates in the business.    

Aaaaaand, if you do come across a wine associate you didn’t see earlier, ask them if they have wines from the specific importers you’ll read about below. Lots of wine geeks in shops/ sommeliers in restaurants also have their favorite importers to wax poetic about. Just like great music or literature, once you find the purveyors you connect with, you’ll have your tastes fine-tuned just a bit more. 

For ample time, I’ve only listed 10 of my favorite national importers and gee willikers, I wanted to list a lot more***, but we can only do so much in one article! Below you’ll see a brief description of each importer followed by 4 wine selections to seek out.   

The Old School Importers

These are the pioneers of the small producers – working with farmers who grow their grapes, make, and sell their own wine.  These importers always display a sense of place, or what the French call ‘terroir.’ You’ll get a classic European pedigree here. 

Rosenthal Wine Merchant, Williamsburg, New York

Neal Rosenthal started out in a tiny wine shop on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in 1977.   France and Italy are the biggest concentrations with most major wine regions covered in both countries. Neal believes in the holy trinity of terroir: 

1. 90% of the ultimate wine is created in the vineyard.

2. The role of the winemaker is to let the wine make itself (“Laissez le vin de se faire”).    

3. The sum of the first two elements.    

Personally, without Neal Rosenthal’s selections coating my palate in my early twenties, I’m not sure where I’d be today.    

Wines to Seek Out: 

Sparkling – Guy Larmandier Cramant Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut Zero, Champagne, France

White – Domaine de Montbourgeau l’Etoile, Jura, France

Red – De Forville Langhe Nebbiolo, Piedmont, Italy

Red – Montevertine Pian Del Ciampolo Rosso, Tuscany, Italy

Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, California

Founding his shop and import business in 1972, Kermit Lynch’s name is synonymous with French wine. His influence cannot be overstated enough as he is primarily responsible for the wine regions of Beaujolais, Châteauneuf du Pape, Sancerre, Provence, and more areas that were introduced to the American wine industry. Kermit has written several books, been awarded the James Beard award twice, released several albums, and continues to hold the sway with the pickiest wine buyers and sommeliers.   

Wines to Seek Out: 

White – Domaine Mastracci ‘E Prove’ Blanc, Corsica, France

Rosé – Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé, Provence, France

Red – Château Thivin Côtes de Brouilly, Beaujolais, France

Red – Catherine Le Goeuil Cairanne, Côtes du Rhône Villages, France

Becky Wasserman & Co., Beaune, FR 

Founded in 1979 by Becky Wasserman-Hone, an American expatriate who has lived in Burgundy, France since 1968. It’s now run by Becky’s son Peter, who focuses their portfolio on wines primarily from Burgundy, France, home of the greatest Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.  All estates are from small domains and shippers who honor their terroirs. If you’re lucky, you might find a Marsannay rosé! 

Wines to Seek Out: 

White – Domaine Michel Lafarge Bourgogne Aligoté ‘Raisins Dorés’, Burgundy, France

White – Benjamin Leroux Auxey-Duresses Blanc, Cotes de Beaune, Burgundy, France

Rosé – Domaine Bruno Clair Marsannay Rosé, Côtes de Nuits, Burgundy, France

Red – Simon Bize Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru ‘Les Fournaux’, Côtes de Beaune, Burgundy, France

Europvin, Bordeaux, FR

Europvin was founded by Christopher Cannan in 1978. He based his business on one concept:  select a unique portfolio of the finest estate wines in Europe and bring it to the attention of discerning importers and opinion makers around the world. 

Today, Europvin is managed by a dynamic team of professionals that, like the rest of these old-school wine selectors, work with “terroir-driven” wines.  My favorites from the company hail from Spain.  And yes… the sherry he imports should be in your top 5 go-to charcuterie board beverage of choice.

Wines to Seek Out: 

White – CVNE ‘Cune’ Monopole Blanco, Rioja, Spain

Red – Bodegas Viña Herminia Reserva, Rioja, Spain

Red – Vega Sicilia Unico, Ribera del Duero, Spain 

Fortified – Lustau Amontillado ‘Los Arcos’ Dry Sherry, Jerez, Spain

Vinifera Imports, Ronkonkoma, NY

In 1979, Domenic Nocerino, a native of Naples, Italy, started a small single-office wine operation, focusing exclusively on Italian wine. To this day, the company is still 100% Italian. It showcases 30-40 of the most highly acclaimed wineries in Italy. Over 13 provinces of Italy are represented, including the famed regions of Piedmont, Tuscany, and Veneto, as well as gems from Calabria, Campania, and Trentino. Most of the properties also practice organic and biodynamic viticulture and low-intervention winemaking. 

Wines to Seek Out: 

White – I Pentri ‘Flora’ Falanghina, Beneventano, Campania, Italy

Red – I Greco ‘Cata’ Rosso, Calabria, Italy

Red – Icardi ‘Parej’ Barolo, Piedmont, Italy

Red – Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, Tuscany, Italy

The New(er) Importers: 

Following the template of what the old school peeps put in place, these importers venture into more obscure, yet no less historic regions of Italy, France, and Spain. However, they also explore Eastern European countries such as Greece, Turkey, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Moldova, and the Southern Hemisphere, with the likes of South America, South Africa, and Australia. They even have great saké starting to pop up!    

Louis Dressner Selections, NYC  

Founded in 1988 by Joe Dressner and wife Denyse Louis, some could say this is the original ‘natural’ or ‘low intervention’ wine importer.  With selections from France, Italy, Portugal, Germany, and Chile, you’re guaranteed a producer that employs wild yeast fermentations, minimal SO2 additions, and no filtering or fining. You’ll find most of these wines in shops and wine bars with a focus on ‘natural’ and ‘zero-zero’ selections.   

Wines to Seek Out: 

White – Arianna Occhipinti “SP 68” Bianco, Sicily, Italy 

White – Koehler-Ruprecht Weissburgunder Trocken, Pfalz, Germany

Red – Château d’Oupia Minervois Rouge, Languedoc-Roussillon, France

Red – Perrini Organic Primitivo del Salento, Puglia, Italy

Vine Connections, Sausalito, CA 

While on a trip visiting wineries in Argentina, lifetime wine guys Nick Ramkowsky and Ed Lerhman knew they just had to introduce these special wines to the American public. In 1999 they were the first to focus on the national portfolio of Argentinian & Chilean wines. In 2000 they added a saké portfolio to the mix and became the first non-Japanese importer to distribute in the US.  

Wines (and a Saké) to Seek Out:

White – Mayu ‘Old Vine’ Pedro Ximenez, Chile

Red – La Posta ‘Armando’ Bonarda, Mendoza, Argentina 

Red – Casa Silva Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Los Lingues Vineyard’, Colchagua, Chile

Saké – Kanbara ‘Bride of the Fox’ Junmai Ginjo, Niigata, Japan

Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, California

Since 1990, Old Bridge Cellars has been bringing in iconic Australian wines from fiercely independent winemakers who retain their belief in artisan winemaking. Long before and after the Aussie ‘critter craze’ of the early 2000s, OBC has impressed wine critics, sommeliers, and consumers alike, with the diversity of this great continent. Australian wines are far more than just Shiraz, lots display the terroir and elegance that the greatest European wine regions summon.

Wines to Seek Out: 

White – Brokenwood Semillon, Hunter Valley, Australia

Red – Penley Estate ‘Steyning’ Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, Australia

Red – d’Arenberg ‘The Ironstone Pressings’ GSM Blend, McLaren Vale, Australia

Sticky (Sweet)– Chambers Rosewood Vineyards Muscat, Rutherglen, Australia

Pascal Schildt Selections, Newport, Rhode Island

Pascal Schildt…not much is known about this German, Afrikaans, French, and English-speaking, bald mystery man. Legend has it that he was born in South Africa to a French mum and a Danish/German pop. He was exposed early on to the winemaking culture of both France and South Africa. It was most likely his love of biltong, the South African jerky treat, that made Pascal focus his initial selection on South African wines in 2011. He focuses on very small producers, from all corners of the country. There’s something for every palate when the Pascal seal of approval graces the back wine label. From classic Bordeaux blends to the funky, unfiltered ones, it’s all here. 

Wines to Seek Out: 

White – Paul Cluver Riesling, Elgin Valley, South Africa

Red – Big Flower Cabernet Franc, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Red – Testalonga Baby Bandito ‘Follow Your Dreams’, Swartland, South Africa

Red – Minimalist Wines ‘Connect the Dots’ Syrah, Western Cape, South Africa

Danch & Granger Selections, San Francisco, California

Founded in 2019 by Eric Danch, former SF sommelier, and French native and wine fan Catherine Granger, this company is an independent offspring of Blue Danube Wine Company, a pioneering importer of wines from Central and Eastern Europe. The focus here is centered on Hungary with a few of its neighbors: Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Austria, and Romania. Czech out their blog for a playful and in-depth look at their producers and the native grape varieties they employ. Are you Hungary for these wines?  You should be.  

Wines to Seek Out: 

White – Demeter Zoltán Dry Furmint ‘Veres’, Tokaji, Hungary

White – Fekete Hárslevelű, Somló, Hungary

White – Črnko Jareninčan White Blend 1L, Slovenia

Red – Piquentum Teran, Istria, Croatia

*(This article strictly deals with imported wines.  For my article on how to select a great domestic wine/my top 25 California producers/my favorite American wine regions, etc, click here).  

**Selectors, for the purpose of this article, are not actual importers but rather a single person or collection of individuals that partner with selected importers, to distribute their curated portfolios of wine and spirits

***Regional Importers also play a large part in the wine industry.   Most operating in only 1-4 states, these companies import producers in very, very small quantities making them harder to find.   

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