There's a reason why today's kids, while abandoning the time-honored traditions of kick-the-can and tag, still migrate towards treasure hunts. Video games abound with secret booties hiding beneath five layers of dastardly deeds, and youngsters can slay evil gargoyles along the way. Finding treasure gives a feeling of accomplishment. In the grown-up world, wine importers get this kind of rush every day. Importers with an unrelenting passion for wine scour the earth to find the next great vinous treasure, meeting in dusty cellars with unknown winemakers. Each wine they represent bears their name on the label, so with only one glance, you can be assured of a deliciously addictive drink.
Most importers specialize in one or two countries, and cover the regions with eager abandon. Kermit Lynch, a California importer and retailer, reportedly tastes every wine he stands behind. Then he negotiates with the normally small producer to allow him to market their pride and joy in the United States. I discovered one of my favorite Bordeaux whites, Chateau Graville Lacoste, by spying Kermit Lynch's name on the label. Another importer I must mention is Eric Solomon, who represents European Cellars in both France and Spain.
Enter Robert Kacher. Prolific and worshipped by wine snobs across the country, Kacher is obsessed with uncovering high quality French juice (and recently South African). He finds obscure vineyards and creates a crazed cult following with only his name. I have literally never tasted a Robert Kacher wine that disappointed me. Most of the time the grapes or the maker (sometimes both) are unfamiliar, but just pop the cork and be assured of a good grog, usually at a good price.
Dan Philips traverses the expanses of Australia to import the best that country has to offer. In 1997, he formed a company called Grateful Palate, which now represents so many award-winning wines I can't keep up — from Paringa to Trevor Jones to his own label Marquis Philips. If you're looking for the juiciest, meatiest shiraz from Australia, write Grateful Palate in your PDA, planner, or on your hand, since you've found a reliable path to nirvana down under.
If Austrian or German wine beckons, seek out Terry Thiese. Wine Advocate succinctly said of him, "In a country where selling high-quality German is akin to swimming against the current, [Terry Thiese] has done a remarkable job, making true believers out of many skeptics." He hunts for wines with soul, and only represents those that are craft-made, with the winemaker following production from grapes to bottle. He also imports amazing champagne.
Jorge Ordoñez has been importing Spanish wines since 1987, long before their current hipness. He's a very influential man in the wine world, and here's why: He single-handedly reintroduced Spanish wines to the U.S. In the 1980s, Spanish vino tasted slightly better than low quality plonk, since wineries and winery co-ops had little motivation to better their wares. With his tenacity and palpable confidence, he re-educated the industry and re-established an interest in Spanish varietals like garnacha and verdejo in formerly backwater but now fashionable wine regions like Jumilla, Campo de Borja, and Calatayud.
With treasure hunters like these guys on your side, you can't go wrong. M
Chateau de Tariquet 2007 Ugni Blanc/Colombard Cotes de Gasgogne (France) Tart, toasty, and chock full of bracing grapefruit, tangy tangerine, lush melon, and tropical green mango. Light and refreshing, this white pairs perfectly with summer. Kacher Selection. $10. e e e e 1/2
Bodegas Ateca 2007 Garnacha del Fuego Calatayud (Spain) Incredible quality for the price. This gracious monster has forceful, mouth-drying tannins, dark black fruit, sweet vanilla tinges, and a delicious finish that lasts forever. Ordoñez selection.
$16. e e e e
Paringa 2004 Sparkling Shiraz (Australia) Blackberry and black currants washed down with a tannin structure worthy of a cabernet. Refreshing, and it's even tasty warm. Dan Philips Selection. $14. e e e 1/2