As wine buyers ourselves, we often look to the back of the bottle when deciding what to choose in a retail store. Here are 12 names to look for, with hit rates of more than 50 percent of the wines they submitted to our tastings, and average scores above 90 for all of those recommendations. The odds will be in your favor when you pick up their wines.
Brian Larky (left) had been making wine at Ca’ del Bosco in Franciacorta before he found a niche importing the portfolios of small, family-owned Italian wineries to the US, connecting them directly to distributors. Scott Ades (right) joined him in 2016, as co-owner and president. They work with 24 producers nationally and imported 400,000 cases in 2022. Their business model took their Best Buy percentage to 23.5, the highest of any of these Top 12 Importers; as for top scores, we awarded those to Vietti, Marchesi di Grésy and Adami.
Neil & Maria Empson had been exporting wines from Italy since 1972 when they decided to establish their own import firm, now run by their daughter, Tara Empson (pictured), who joined the company in 2005. While the 42 wineries from Italy form the core of their national portfolio, they also represent wines from Chile, Spain, New Zealand and the US. We found plenty to love among their Italian wines from north to south, particularly from Conterno Fantino, Luigi Einaudi, Boscarelli and Pietradolce.
Francesco Ganz, Paolo Bressan and Damiano Sorato had all worked in wine and spirits before the founded Ethica Wines. Now Ganz (pictured) is CEO, Bressan handles sales to retail and Sorato to on-premise accounts nationally. They represent 25 wineries in Italy, and brought in 1 million cases of wine in 2022. Highlights included Fontanabianca and Carranco—and don’t forget to step across the border into Slovenia for Movia.
Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant
Kermit Lynch describes his former career as being a penniless musician. And he has more time to play since Dixon Brooke started running his legendary import and retail business (he joined in 2000 and became president in 2015). They represent nationally nearly 150 wineries in France, and close to 50 from Italy, importing 500,000 cases in 2022. Taupenot-Merme took their top honors in Burgundy, J. Lassalle in Champagne and Albert Boxler in Alsace.
Maisons Marques & Domaines USA
Jean-Claude Rouzaud, then CEO of Champagne Louis Roederer, established MMD USA to import his growing portfolio of estates. Guillaume Fouilleron (pictured), who joined the group in 1998, is now MMD USA’s President & CEO, with national representation of 30 wineries from seven countries, a total of 300,000 cases in 2022. They earned top marks across the breadth of their portfolio—from Spain’s Marqués de Murrieta and Pazo de Barrantes, to France’s Domaines Ott, and Italy’s Querciabella.
Maze Row Wine Merchant
Joe C. Gallo, the Vice President and General Manager of Luxury Wine at E & J Gallo Winery, rebranded his portfolio as Maze Row in 2022. His team represents eight wineries in Italy, one in Spain and one in the US, importing nationally 150,000 cases in 2022. Argiano, Brancaia, Pieropan and Renato Ratti all shared top marks.
North Berkeley Imports
When Billy Weiss purchased North Berkeley Wine, a retail store opened in 1979 he used it to launch an import company, focused on French and Italian wines, now representing 100 growers, selling them in 25 states and at the retail shop. NBI’s consistent high scores across 100+ submissions earned them a place on this page. Rocca di Montegrossi and Fratelli Alessandria spearheaded their Italian selections, while Dumien-Serrete’s Cornas joined Frédéric Magnien and Domaine du Couvent at the head of the French list.
Sandy Oatley of Robert Oatley Vineyards started this import company, changing its name in 2016 when the Giesen family joined in a 50-50 partnership. Mark Giordano (pictured) has been president from the start and, in October2023, will take that title at Opici Wines & Spirits, which purchased Pacific Highway this year. The portfolio includes 20 wineries from ten countries. They imported 500,000 cases in 2022, and our favorites crossed the equator—Uruguay’s Garzón, Argentina’s Luigi Bosca and Australia’s Robert Oatley.
Douglas Polaner and Tina Fischer were wine sales representatives when they launched the company they still run today. Focused mostly on wineries from France (103), Italy (81), and Spain (29), their portfolio includes producers from Argentina, Chile and Portugal, as well as the US. They sell their wines in New York and New Jersey, handling 183,000 cases in 2022. Our favorite wines spanned the Old World—Suertes del Marqués in the Canary Islands, COS in Sicily, Benoit Déhu and Gatinois in Champagne.
Michael Skurnik (left) was importing wines at Mommessin and his brother Harmon (right) was doing market research for BBDO when they founded Skurnik Wines. They now represent more than 800 wineries from 45 countries, distributing those wines in nine states (NY, NJ, CT, RI, PA, OH, KY, IN and CA). They imported 500,000 cases in 2022, with strong showings in Barolo from Sottimano and Cavallotto, South Africa (Mullineux, David & Nadia), Germany (Carl Loewen) and Spain (Can Sumoi).
Michael Quinttus took his Yale Law degree to Kobrand, where he worked for 18 years before founding Vintus. His team, led by Alexander Michas (COO), nationally represents wines from eight countries—mostly Italy (15 producers), France (14) and Spain (5), along with Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and the US. Their high-end cleaned up this year, with epic showings from Lucien Le Moine, Bollinger, Le Macchiole, Masseto, Ornellaia, and Remírez de Ganuza.
Win Wilson and Jack Daniels focused their import company on limited-production wines, including Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, whose wines the company has represented since 1979. Rocco Lombardo (pictured) joined as President in 2015, nationally representing 53 wineries, including producers from France (19), Italy (19), New Zealand, Hungary, Portugal and the US. They handled 609,000 cases in 2022, 469,000 imported and 140,000 domestic. Small productions remain a strength—Royal Tokaji, Joly, Biondi-Santi and Elvio Cogno headlined their recommendations.
This story appears in the print issue of Fall 2022.
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