If you’ve ever seen a sommelier inspecting an unfamiliar bottle with awe, you’ve probably noticed them spinning the bottle and squinting at the back label. They’re checking for the importer—the often unsung hero that works as the sommelier to the sommeliers, meeting producers and bringing their wines into the US. We’ve parsed the last 12 months of our tastings for the importers with the most noteworthy wines—yet another good reason to spin the bottle.
Old Bridge Cellars
Standouts in Australian Wine
Originally founded by Austalian expat Rob MacDonald, Old Bridge Cellars has expanded under the ownership of Carlos Alvarez (of Corona beer), who purchased it in 2003. Rob Buono has been at the helm of Old Bridge since 2004, working with Aussie-born Gavin Speight to build the portfolio, extending into New Zealand, France and California. They focus on wines from independently owned estates in Australia, such as d’Arenberg, Cullen and Chambers Rosewood, all represented in this issue.
Monika Caha Selections
New York, NY
Specialists in Austrian Wine
Austrian-born chef Monika Caha ran Kaffeehaus in NYC for five years. She returned to Austria after 9/11, coming back to New York in 2003 with a handful of Austrian producers and a plan to represent them in the US—and oh, did she. Her portfolio, run with co-owner Toni Silver, is a master class in Austrian terroirs, from the Wachau to the southern reaches of Styria. In this issue, look for Forstreiter, Handwerk and Stadlmann.
North Berkeley Imports
A Burgundy Powerhouse with Depth in Italy
Originally established in 1979, North Berkeley Wine was on the Shattuck Avenue scene just a few doors down from Chez Panisse in Berkeley. In 1999, Billy Weiss purchased the store, grew its domestic national wholesale portfolio and expanded its imports. It’s now known especially for stellar niche Champagne (see Jean Vesselle, a Top 100 Winery) and Burgundy, with producers such as Frédéric Magnien, Pousse d’Or and Remoissenet celebrated in this issue. Their Italians in the issue are led by Rocca de Montegrossi.
New York, NY
From Northern France to the Rhône and on to Italy
Sixth-time back-to-back Importer of the Year winner Michael Quinttus founded Vintus in 2004 after years as a portfolio manager at Kobrand. Striking out on his own, he sought to build a small collection of family-owned estates from all over the world. The portfolio now includes legendary producers such as Bollinger in Champagne, Chanson and Lucien Le Moine in Burgundy and Rhône legend E. Guigal (a 14-time Top 100 Winery), as well as new names like Rotem and Mounir Saouma in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. In Piedmont, it’s Sandrone; in Bolgheri, Le Macchiole.
Loosen Bros. USA
Kirk Wille, a member of the Dr. Loosen team since 1996, helped establish Eroica, a joint venture between the German winery and Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington State, as well as J. Christopher, a partnership in Oregon. In 2003, with Ernst Loosen, he launched Loosen Bros. USA, a portfolio focused on some of Germany’s top estates, such as Maximin Grünhaus and Robert Weil (not to mention Dr. Loosen as well), all Top 100 Wineries this year.
Ted Diamantis, a first-generation Greek-American born in Chicago, founded Diamond Importers in 1992. Beginning with the then-revolutionary wines of Skouras in Nemea, he has built a powerhouse portfolio of top Greek vintners. His collection of Santorini wineries is particularly strong, with Domaine Sigalas, Vassaltis Vineyards and Santo Winery all honored in this issue.
Skurnik Wines & Spirits
New York, NY
A Sweep in Italy
Michael Skurnik founded Skurnik Wines in New York in 1987, and was joined two years later by his brother, Harmon. They’ve taken what began as a small portfolio of California wineries to a global focus. While they have wines in this issue from France and Spain—and Raúl Pérez among the Top 100 Wineries—their Italian selections particularly stand out this year, with producers such as Sottimano in Piedmont, Gini in Soave and Terre Nere and Valle dell’Acate in Sicily landing among the top wines we tasted.
Premium Port Wines
San Francisco, CA
The Lead in Portugal
James Symington established Premium Port Wines in 1985 with the help of Robert Haas, then owner of Vineyard Brands. Premium Port is the importer for most of the Symington Family Estates, a portfolio that includes Graham’s, Dow’s and Cockburn’s, and extends into Alentejo (see Quinta da Fonte Souto, a Winery to Watch). Peter Scott, who runs Premium Port in the US, works with Rupert Symington, James’s son and the current CEO of Symington Family Estates, as well as with Chris Blandy, of Blandy’s Madeira, one of the Top 100 Wineries this year.
Olé & Obrigado Imports
New Rochelle, NY
Spain, from Galicia to Jerez
Native Spaniards Patrick Mata and Alberto Orte founded Olé Imports in 1999, and teamed up with Portuguese importer Rui Abecassis of Obrigado Vinhos in 2013, officially forming Olé & Obrigado in 2018. Together, they scour the Iberian peninsula for wines that honor place and variety, with particular attention to overlooked areas like Monterrei (see Quinta da Muradella) and lesser-known names such as Torremorón in Ribera del Duero and Jerez’s Bodegas Poniente, both featured in our Top 100 Wines.
This story appears in the print issue of Winter 2020.
Like what you read? Subscribe today.