The trick to finding your favorite wine: Know your importer

Empire State South’s wine director recommends five of his favs

Illustration by Dalia Adillon

The text message usually comes early evening: I’m at a wine shop what do I buy

I could list some of my favorite French and Italian vintners, but there is zero guarantee that their bottles will be on the shelves. The real trick? Hunt by importer.

Importers have palates, too, after all. Find one you trust, and then search for their other wines by looking not at the front label—but near the barcode on the back.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant
Kermit Lynch began importing in the 1970s, introducing America to many of France’s greatest wines (like Domaine Tempier Bandol and Chateauneuf-du-­­ Pape’s Vieux Telegraphe). His stamp is a kind of gold standard, whether that bottle costs $15 (like Marcel Lapierre’s Raisins Gaulois from Beaujolais) or $1,500 (Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne).

Becky Wasserman & Co.
If you’re hunting for French Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, a Becky Wasserman label could clinch it—she’s been living in the Burgundy hills since 1968. Wasserman also exports great Chenin Blanc, like Arnaud Lambert’s Chateau de Brézé, a benchmark source in Anjou.

Rosenthal Wine Merchant
Neal Rosenthal has always chosen French, Italian, and Swiss producers that walk the line between tradition and idiosyncrasy. His terroir-minded picks often leave fruitiness to the background and emphasize mineral and herbal tones, so they’ll best reward an adventurous palate.

Grubbs’s favorite wine shops:

Hop City Bar
99 Krog Street

Perrine’s Wine Shop
1168 Howell Mill Road

Highland Fine Wine
1402-6 North Highland Avenue

Louis/Dressner Selections
A progenitor of the now-stylish natural wine movement, Louis/Dressner deals only in wines fermented without preservatives. Within that class, though, Dressner lays claim to the most skilled producers. If you’ve been burned by vinegary wines that smell like mouse cages, but you like the idea of going natural, this is the importer for you. Sicily’s Arianna Occhipinti is a master with the Nero d’Avola grape (try her SP68 red blend, $26), and Eric Texier crafts beautiful stuff from all over the Rhone Valley.

Uva Imports
Buying Uva is an easy way to drink like a small-town Italian. Based in Atlanta, owner Adam Richard sells inexpensive Italian wines from boutique producers (Le Morette’s Bardolino Classico Chiaretto, $16, is a perennial favorite rosé), but he makes room for some premium bottles, too.

Steven Grubbs is the wine director of Empire State South in Atlanta and Five & Ten in Athens, Georgia.

This article appears in our May 2018 issue.