Selecting a foreign bottle of wine is always intimidating. Only the most savvy connoisseurs know how the juice from the French vineyards of Gevrey-Chambertin differs from that of the broader region of Nuits-St.-Georges. With few exceptions, state store salespeople haven’t tasted the wines. For most of us, picking a bottle often becomes a beauty contest, with the winner chosen by the most appealing label.
So how to ensure your pick isn’t mass-market plonk? That you can hand it to your holiday host with pride? Skip that front label, turn the bottle over, and look at the back, where the importer’s name is found. The best importers play a critical role in bringing great wines to the U.S. by combining discerning taste with unflagging energy in searching the globe for star winemakers—both established and up-and-coming. They’re like museum curators or restaurant critics—experts you can trust to carefully guide you to what’s best and most interesting.
Forget memorizing good years and grape varietals; just concentrate on these trusted names. Unionville, PA-based Weygandt-Metzler is known for an outstanding French portfolio (like the sleek Loire Valley cabernet franc chinon Château de la Bonnelière 2006, $14.99, and Domaine Aphillanthes Côtes du Rhône-Villages Cuvée Trois Cépages 2006, $18.99). Kermit Lynch, a pioneering wine-world veteran, has brought over a polished bordeaux blend from the -Lalande-de-Pomerol region (Château Belles-Graves 2006, $28.99). Château Haut Lavigne 2007 ($16.99), from the Côtes de Duras, is a white blend imported by Jenny & Francois Selections, specialists in natural (organic or biodynamic vineyard) wines. From Italy, Leonardo LoCascio/Winebow has an excellent collection—a rich Sicilian white from Tasca D’Almerita for $12.99, as well as a balanced barbera from Coppo, Camp du Rouss 2005, for $21.99. And definitely explore the excellent German wines of Michael Skurnik, from great producers such as Leitz, Selbach-Oster and Carl Schmitt-Wagner. If you don’t see the wine you’re looking for at one of the Premium Wine & Spirit Shoppes, like the one in Ardmore, the -salesperson can order it for you.