Back of the Bottle – Why Wine Importers Are Like Music Labels

Earlier this month, Simon Frouws waxed poetic with us about what goes into designing a wine label. However, an often overlooked element of a wine bottle is that label on the back. It’s not just a barcode and all-caps warning of booze consumption. This small piece of real estate can include a description of the wine, a backstory of the vineyard, and even the name of the distributor if the wine was imported.

Speaking of imports, our good friend and certified sommelier out of Houston, Chris Poldoian, has a brilliant approach to discovering imported wine: by treating importers like your favorite music label.

You trust your importer to have a nose for talent (literally and figuratively) and bring in solid product, just as you’d expect your favorite record label to do the same.

Chris explains:

One thing that I think is an underrated part of picking a wine is choosing a wine based on importer, which a wine drinker can find on the back of the bottle. A lot of novices choose their wines based on what appears on the front of the bottle, but when it comes to shopping in a store, flipping the bottle around to see who is actually bringing the wine into the States can be super helpful when it comes to choosing something good.

If I had to draw a music parallel, I’d say that cherry picking through an importer’s portfolio is a little like sifting through your favorite music label. I know that XL Recordings and GOOD Music work with artists that I enjoy, so I can trust that the music they’re putting out is good. (The exception to this being Desiigner…not really sure what GOOD was thinking when they added him to the roster).

There’s a lot of importers who I think are doing a great job, but three that immediately come to mind –

De Maison

This Spanish-focused import company regularly updates their website with educational maps. These wines are unpretentious and emphasize benchmark styles from authentic producers. DM wines offer fantastic value and represent centuries of tradition.

Other Spanish importers that I really respect are José Pastor Selections for more avant-garde wines and Trumpet Wines for enthusiastic and value-driven selections.

Selection Massale

This Bay Area-based importer was started by some young guys determined to bring real natural wines from France to the USA. Guillaume and Cory are the modern day Kermit Lynch, working to expose the most honest representations of French wine to American consumers.

If you’re looking to explore the world of minimal-interventionist wine, these bottles are a great place to start. Their Boutanche bottling consists of Liter-sized, highly drinkable wines. In addition to France, SM imports wines from the southern German regions Württemberg and Baden known collectively as Swabia.

Vine Street

When it comes to wines from NZ, Australia, and South Africa, there are many great importers. But, for the sake of brevity, I’ll give a shoutout to Vine Street. Vine Street’s Australian wineries include industry-favorites Jauma, Ochota Barrels, and Domaine Lucci, all of which will erase any stereotype you have of Aussie Shiraz. Their South African Book includes Craven Wines (try the Pinot Gris) and Storm Point (Chenin Blanc).

Chris Poldoian

Chris Poldoian is a certified sommelier and a member of the Houston Sommelier Association. He runs Camerata, an exceptional wine bar in Houston that specializes in lesser known varieties and old world regions. Track Chris’s adventures and the latest in Houston’s wine scene on Instagram – and be sure to pop into Camerata when in town.

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