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Wine Importers to Rely On: Terry Theise (Germany, Austria, Grower Champagnes)

16 Jul

by Sharon Kapnick

Terry Theise has brought outstanding wines from an underappreciated wine-making country and a virtually unknown wine-making country to the U.S. And then he introduced us to a collection of artisanal grower Champagnes from the most esteemed wine region of all.

Not so very long ago, when Americans thought of German wine, they thought of the lackluster Blue Nun and Liebfraumilch. Theise almost singlehandedly changed this. Influential wine critic Robert M. Parker  Jr. wrote in 1991 that “in less than 4 years, Terry Theise has done more for the image of high-quality German wines than anyone in the previous eight decades…. By beating the back roads of less renowned viticultural regions, Theise has put together a portfolio of … individualistic wines of astonishing quality…. The result is a bevy of phenomenal wines and extraordinary wine bargains.”

Then, in 1994, Theise added Austrian wines—which most U.S. wine lovers knew nothing about—to his portfolio. Grüner Veltliner, the food-friendly white that accounts for more than a third of Austrian production, is Austria’s signature wine. It was a great discovery for food-and-wine lovers because, as Theise says, Grüner Veltliner complements “all the foods that are supposedly wine killers,” including “every manner of obstreperous veggie.” It thrilled sommeliers, who educated their clientele about its virtues. Austria is also reputed for its Rieslings and sweet dessert wines, and Theise offers them too (as well as its Sekts [sparkling wines], Weissburgunders, Gelber Muskatellers, Bläufrankisches, St. Laurents, Zweigelts and more).

In 1997 Theise’s next venture uncharacteristically took him to the best-known wine region in the world. He was intrigued by a new trend in Champagne: Small growers were bottling their own wines rather than selling their grapes to the big houses. Instead of Champagne that tastes the same each year—a style the large houses strive to achieve—these grower Champagnes aim to be unique every year. “Champagne, like any other wine,” Theise said, “is fascinating to the extent it’s distinctive.” Grower Champagnes bubble up with individuality. They’re brimming with the local character that the large Champagne houses blend away.

Along the way, Theise has received much recognition from the wine press and others. In 2001 he was Wine & Spirits magazine’s Man of the Year; in 2005 Food & Wine magazine named him Importer of the Year. In 2008 he won the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional.

Theise’s portfolio is overwhelmingly white. “I love red wines,” he says, “but I have mined a seam of whites from a narrow latitudinal band of northern Europe”—for which many white wine lovers are very grateful.

Theise has partnered with top importer Michael Skurnik Wines. For more on Theise and his wines, visit www.skurnikwines.com. And look for his name on the bottle labels.

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Wine Importers to Rely On: Leonardo LoCascio Selections (Specialty: Italy)

5 Jun

by Sharon Kapnick

Shopping for an Italian wine? You’d do well to look for Leonardo LoCascio’s name on the label, for many consider him to have the most impressive Italian portfolio in the U.S.

In 1980, after he left a prestigious position at Citibank, LoCascio launched Winebow, Inc., a wine importing and distributing business. While he carries many excellent wines from more than 30 countries, LoCascio is renowned for his Italian wines.

Leonardo LoCascio Selections, the Italian arm of Winebow, features some 75 producers, many small to mid-size, independent and family owned. That ensures, LoCascio says, that “the grapes are cared for on a very intimate basis.” While he of course imports wines from the superstar viticultural areas of Tuscany and Piedmont, he’s especially proud of the wines he’s discovered in southern Italy—from Sicily, where he was born, Sardinia, Campania, Basilicata, Calabria and Apulia, regions not generally recognized for stellar wines. Finding topnotch wines there is more of a challenge, which excites him. By venturing off the beaten path, he aims to discover wines of “distinctive character and exceptional value,” and his selection of inexpensive wines is indeed noteworthy.

In 1998 LoCascio was named one of the most influential wine personalities of the past 20 years by influential wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr. The same year he received Food & Wine magazine’s Golden Grape Award, which recognizes “visionaries in America who are not only changing the way we think about wine but also determining what we will be drinking in the 21 st century.” If LoCascio is right, grapes like Nero d’Avola (red), Grillo and Inzolia (whites), the mainstays of Sicily, will someday be as well known in the U.S. as Pinot Grigio—well, at least much better known than they are today.

Awards and recognition keep rolling in. In 2009, Winebow was named Importer of the Year by Wine Enthusiast magazine. In 2010 the Quarterly Review of Wines and the New York Institute of Technology honored LoCascio with their 13th annual Professional Excellence Award.

His website (www.winebow.com) boasts that “the Leonardo LoCascio Selections logo on a label has become the de facto seal of approval for Italian wine enthusiasts.”’ It’s got that just right.