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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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