Even the most disciplined wine consumers – never mind the rest of us – must from time to time find themselves with a dilemma. You may have a highly organized wine rack or even a wine cellar at home, but what about when you’re visiting Aunt Betty for the weekend and everyone turns to you to go do the wine purchasing at the nearest store? Faced with an unfamiliar selection and perhaps a clueless clerk, how do you maintain your reputation for connoisseurship?
A rule of thumb for making the guesswork easier is to turn the bottle around and look at the back label. Why? Because that is where you’ll most often find the name of the importer. One of the greatest aids to choosing a bottle you know little about is getting to know some importing companies whose selections you have confidence in. Of course, this does not apply to domestic wines as there is no importer involved, though sometimes there is an intermediate marketing company.
It took me a while to realize that many of the interesting and tasty mid-priced wines I was drinking from the Loire and Burgundy regions of France were from the importer Louis Dressner. Once I did, I made a point of looking for this label on the back of French bottles. As a longtime fan of wines made from the cabernet franc grape, I’ve discovered that Louis Dressner imports several excellent ones from the Loire. In general, these red wines are medium-bodied with well-integrated tannins and can accompany a wide range of dishes from roasted cod or a “saumon poêlé” to smoked duck or grilled lamb. Try the Saumur from Domaine Filiatreau or the Chinon from Bernard Baudry.
From the Costières de Nîmes appellation, another versatile red in this importer’s portfolio is the Mas Saint Joseph “Les Cypres” which has a satisfying amount of fruit well balanced with earthiness and spice.
Among white wines enjoyed recently was the charming Beaujolais Blanc “Les Terres Dorées”, a chardonnay, from Jean-Paul Brun. With a price tag of about $13, this would be fun to try in a blind tasting with some higher priced White Burgundies and California Chardonnays and see how it fares.
Winebow is an always reliable importer of Italian wines that celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary not long ago. Its back label logo bears the name of its founder, Leonardo LoCascio, who still heads the company. Whether you’re looking for a wine from Tuscany or Piedmont, the Veneto or Campania, you can be sure that Winebow will provide an appropriate choice.
My attention was caught recently by a radio report that cited the longevity of inhabitants of the central region of Sardinia which was in part attributed to the wine which they drink made from the cannonau grape. One which I’ve enjoyed over the years is the Costera from Argiolas. This particular Costera, a Winebow import, is ripe, robust and saturated with flavor. One of several white wines made by Argiolas is the lively, crisp, citrusy Costamolino, made from the vermentino grape. And if you like rosé, you must try the flavorful Serralori Rosato, also from this producer.
Yet another importer whose wines I admire is Eric Solomon, owner of the company European Cellars. Many of his selections are Spanish such as the El Vilosel from Tomas Cusine. This primarily tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon based wine has a nose that combines earthy, fruity, meaty, even floral notes. Flavorful and velvet-textured this would go well with braised short ribs or pork loin.
Another red from European Cellars I’ve enjoyed is the Castano Monastrell. Fruity, hearty, ripe, earthy and generous – does it sound like it’s easy to drink? Well, yes, it certainly is.
For a white from European Cellars you might try the Espelt “Vaillet” Blanco from the scenic region of the Costa Brava. Aromatic and fresh, it has thirst-quenching flavors of melon and lemon with a bit of a bracing mineral edge.