© Chloe Berk

Tim Kweeder of Kensington Quarters in Philadelphia finds knowing a little about a wine importer’s point of view goes a long way toward discovering new bottles you’ll love.

May 11, 2016

If you’ve ever hesitated over a bottle at your local wine shop, wondering whether or not the liquid inside will suit your tastes, Tim Kweeder has an expert move: flip the bottle over to the back label to read who imports it. “It’s the way I shop,” says Kweeder, who oversees the beverage program for Kensington Quarters – the whole-animal butcher-plus-restaurant concept in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood. “We have these great, trusted sources who are way more reliable than point scores, and it’s about time we give them credit for what they do.” 

Importers, Kweeder argues, are to wine what record labels are to music; they’re an assurance of certain standards of quality, vibe, and point of view. Next month, he’s hosting a series of importer-centric wine classes at the restaurant. For those unable to make it there in person, he shares 12 bottles from 12 such “sources” here:

1.    2014 De Moor Bourogne Aligoté (Louis/Dressner Selections) 
“It’s difficult to narrow it down to picking a favorite from the Louis/Dressner book. Sure, they focus on quote-unquote natural wines, but there’s also a human element in every wine they represent, and they have mastered the art of finding the genuine, authentic growers in unsung areas. This one is from Alice & Olivier de Moor, who are as sweet as can be. They’re based in the Chablis area, and everything I’ve tasted from them is well balanced, clean, crisp, pure, and with great acid. The Aligoté comes off of vineyards around Chitry, and it’s obviously leaner, texturally, than Chardonnay-based wines and also more linear than a style from, say, Bouzeron. That’s kind of the hallmark of De Moor’s style – that linear quality. All minerality and these great citrus notes.”

2.    2014 Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet Vin de Pays de l’Ardèche Blanc (Jenny & François Selections) 
“Jenny Lefcourt [of Jenny & François Selections] is a reference in the natural wine world. She’s pretty strict in her guidelines for bringing in non-manipulated wines only, so you can trust that a wine with her import line on the back label is going to have as little makeup as possible. And Hervé Souhaut from Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet is a classic example of that. This is a blend of Viognier and Roussane – two grapes that I usually hate for their propensity for being overly floral, flabby, and out of balance – but Souhaut’s manages to be ON, every vintage. The acid, which is usually absent in wines made from these grapes, is always just enough, the alcohol is always in check, and it fits that space on the list for medium-full bodied white just perfectly.”

3.    2014 Bodegas El Viejo Almacén 'Huaso de Sauzal Chilena' Valle del Maule (Indie Wineries)
“I went to a tasting that Indie Wineries participated in recently and had no idea that three of my favorite wines there were going to be Chilean. Any time I’d think about Chile before, I might think of mass-produced wines that sit on retail shelves forever. This is not that. It’s made from the Pais grape, from really old vines, and it might be a few dollars more per bottle, but it’s worth it. If you taste it side by side with one of those commercial wines, there will be a noticeable difference: One will taste kind of gloppy and one-dimensional, and the other will have all of this life to it. There are immediately 10 different flavors you can pull out of the glass: This nice rusticity with ripe cherry fruit, red licorice, earth, and a subtle florality... Indie’s strongpoint is Italy, but they’ve since branched out quite a bit with these Chilean wineries that are killing it. They’re not as hardcore into natural as Jenny & François but they tend to keep some of the same guidelines.”

4.    NV Paltrinieri ‘Radice’ Lambrusco di Sorbara (PortoVino) 
“PortoVino is a go-to for classically made wines from Italy. They have pretty much every region in the country covered, and the owner, Ernest Ifkovitz, is an insightful, genuine soul, who thinks on a different wavelength. He singles out wineries outside of the prestige appellations – think more Alto Piemonte than Barolo, for example – that focus on native grapes and skew away from crazy new oak and international varieties. I’m a sucker for good Lambrusco, and this one is particularly cool. It’s made from the Sorbara clone, which is the type I like to taste beer geeks on because it has that effervescence, bright sour cherry notes and high acidity that make it reminiscent of a sour beer or wild ale.”

5.    2014 Bodegas Los Bermejos Lanzarote Malvasía Seco (David Bowler Wine) 
“David McDuff, the regional Bowler guy here in Pennsylvania, is one of a few people credited for kickstarting the modern day Philly wine scene. He put together a Canary Island seminar recently, which was a great opportunity to meet the people behind the wines. (Not to mention: it was also cool to learn that when the Declaration of Independence was signed, the wine they toasted with was actually from the Canaries, so there’s a Canary Island-Philly connection that goes way back.) Los Bermejos is a long time favorite producer from the region, and their Malvasía is flat-out outstanding: saline and lemony, with bright acidity that leaves you wanting a nice plate of seafood to accompany it. For me, the Bowler book is all about great, unexpected wines like this one.”

6.    2014 Domaine Brana 'Harri Gorri' Irouleguy Rosé (Wine Traditions)
“Wine Traditions has a portfolio that is all French, all humble estates. It’s run by Ed Addiss, who is this nice, humble fellow, so the wines really reflect his personality in that sense. He’s probably the furthest from the ‘natural wine-only’ mentality; some of his producers are large, others might have only one hectare to their name, but they’re all classic expressions of where they’re from. He has a strong representation from southwest France in particular, which is where this rosé is from and is also a favorite region of mine for values. It’s a bottle that can age. It drinks well in any season of the year, and, being a blend of Tannat and Cabernet Franc, it has a nice richness without being too over the top, and this cool distinctive tomato vine note that I've never encountered in a wine before.”

7.    2014 Domaine Ricard 'Le Vilain P'tit Rouge' Touraine (Sussex/Petit Pois)
“Most of the wines in the Sussex/Petit Pois book are from small wineries in France, Germany, and Italy. They’re an importer that doesn’t stock a lot of really recognizable names, but you can trust that wines are from family-run estates and are going to be incredibly food-friendly. Vincent Ricard – of Domaine Ricard in the Loire – is one of the more interesting winemakers they work with. He makes a very clean Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, which is a crowd pleaser, but in general his wines tend to be on the wild side: minimal manipulation and all that. This one in particular, which is mostly Cot with a splash of Cabernet Franc, is quite earthy and dark-fruited, while still being fairly light in body. It’s not something I would sell to someone looking for a Malbec (which is actually what Cot is) but to someone who’s a little geekier… a little more interested in trying new things.  It’s full of character at a young age and also worth cellaring for a handful of years.” 

8.    2013 Vetter ‘Steinterrassen Sandstein’ Sylvaner (Vom Boden) 
“Vetter is a relatively new addition to the Vom Boden book. The winemaker worked with A.J. Adam (of the famous Mosel estate) before deciding to buy a small parcel – 4 hectares or so – in Franken, where nobody else was doing it. And since then, he’s become sort of the poster boy for natural wine in Germany and a rockstar in the Scandinavian dining scene, where natural wines are all the rage. His practices include biodynamic farming, skin contact, no fining or filtration… The wine fits right in with Vom Boden, who’s bringing in some of the most interesting wine to come out of Germany. It’s dry but has some cool tropical notes as well, so it’s not austere. We sold through our first case really quick. People just went for it.”

9.    2013 Nicolas Gonin Vin de Pays des Balmes Dauphinoises Persan Mondeuse (MFW Wine Co.) 
“MFW champions growers who are very hardcore about farming. There are no pop stars in their portfolio. No one is name-dropping their Champagne producers in hip hop tracks. (Although, LCD Soundsystem might be into them.) Nicolas Gonin is one such grower who runs a unique operation just south of Savoie in this area called Isère-Dauphinois. It’s a similarly mountainous area… very green. He seems to have an interest in resurrecting all of these lost and forgotten grapes, like the ones used in this blend. You get the dark fruit, violet, and earthy notes of the Mondeuse and the bright red cherry notes and bright acid from the Persan.”  

10.     2015 Domaine Lucci ‘Wildman’ Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir (Vine Street Imports)
“Ronnie Sanders of Vine Street Imports has built a great niche for artisanal Aussie. He has started bringing in wines from other countries – Italy in particular – but Australia is his pride and joy, so this portfolio is a great snapshot of what’s going on in Australia, wine-wise, in the contemporary era. This wine is unlike most Pinot Noir out there. It’s very aromatic, bright, high-toned, pretty, and has just a touch of earthiness to it. Just really straightforward and charming. Domaine Lucci is a great counterpoint to the heavy-handed Barossa wines that might come to mind. I’m really excited to see what Vine Street brings on next.” 

11.     2014 Weingut Knauss 'Without All' Württemberg Trollinger (Selection Massale) 
“Selection Massale brings in awesome wines from France, a little from Italy and also the historic area of Swabia, Germany. They’re an importer that pushes the boundaries a little bit. It would be oversimplifying to say the book is comprised of natural wines; [co-owner] Guilhaume Gerard would hate to be pigeonholed in that way. The wines all have strong personalities… like he does. One story goes: He asked Andi Knauss, the producer of this wine, to make a Trollinger without chaptalization. Andi took it a step further and not only made a wine without chapitalization but also without fining, without filtration, without sulfur, without a cork (it’s screw-top) and without a label. Hence, the name 'Without All.’ It’s cool-climate, Pinot Noir-esque and Beaujolais-esque – light, with a lot of character. It also has this underlying porky note, like charcuterie… that savory, meaty quality, but still light.”

12.     2010 Jean Bourdy Côtes du Jura Rouge (Zev Rovine Selections) 
“Bourdy is a very classic winery from the Jura, and this wine – a blend of Trousseau, Pinot Noir and Poulsard – is just universally friendly for people. It’s a good alternative to red Burgundy: Straightforward, well made, elegant, with bright acidity, and just delicious. Zev Rovine has some of the more extreme natural wines in the market. Some of them are even a little too hardcore for me… But this wine represents his portfolio in a sense that it has that spirit of minimal intervention, just in a more classic expression. If Zev were a rock & roll show, Bourdy would be the ballad in the set list.”