Frenchy’s Wine Road: Tasting Four Wines from Two Distributors

Periodically, I will be writing about wines that Connecticut’s distributors are currently showing to retailers.  I hope to give readers an ongoing sneak peak at what they can expect to see on the shelves in their favorite store.  In the months to come, I will be sourcing wines to taste from as many distributors as possible. This article is part one of a two-part series.

The Three Tiers

Since the end of Prohibition, in 1933, the American drinks industry has been divided into three tiers.  By law, no wine, beer, or spirits producer may own or operate a drinks distributor or retailer.  Similarly, no distributor or retailer may have an interest in either of the other two tiers of the drinks industry.

Most wine consumers are familiar with two of these tiers: their local wine store, and wineries they may have visited or know from purchases made in the past. Less well known to the average consumer are the Importers and Distributors that source and market wines for each State.

In Connecticut, there are currently 40+ such distributors.  They range from behemoths like Brescome Barton Worldwide Wines, Connecticut Distributors, Eder Brothers, or Hartley & Parker, to niche operations like Aventine Hill or Greenwich’s very own Fine Terroir.  Connecticut is also a “franchise State,” which means that any given wine can be sold by only one distributor in the State.

What role do Wine Distributors play?

Importers and Distributors have a key role (some would say THE key role) in the drinks business.  They carry out much of the advertising and marketing of wines.  On average, their sales representatives tend to be the most broadly knowledgeable wine persons in the industry.   

Distributors may represent only a handful of artisanal wineries, catering to shops with sophisticated customers.  Or they may be massive one-stop shops that serve retailers who want to keep things simple by having only a handful of suppliers.

A Recent Tasting

Recently I tasted 5 white wines from Brescome Barton Worldwide Wines (B2 W3) and from Wilson-Daniels Distributors (W-D).  I describe 4 here.  Brescome’s wine portfolio is the largest in the State, and also one of the finest.  Wilson-Daniels, an Importer/Distributor with offices in several States, is equally respected in the wine business for their high-quality portfolio.

Pierre Sparr Rosé Crémant d’Alsace (100% Pinot Noir) – $20 (W-D)

Many consumers have never tried Crémant, and that is too bad.  Crémant is sparkling wine made with the same method as Champagne, but in one of the non-Champagne regions of France.  It is one of the best values in sparkling wine.

Alsace produces some of the best Crémant, and this Pierre Sparr Rosé, made entirely from Pinot Noir grapes, is a lot of fun.  It is uninhibited, with strawberry, lychee, red cherry, and jam flavors, spiced with a hint of nutmeg.  But fear not!  There is a very pleasant, cheek-snapping tartness to this wine that means it is not cloying or too fruity.  Just delicious!

Domaine Laroche Bourgogne Chardonnay 2017 – $20-23 (W-D)

Burgundy wine is famous, among many reasons, for its exquisite oak treatment of Chardonnay.  Yet many areas of Burgundy carry out a minimalist treatment, preferring a fresher, more youthful approach.

The Laroche does not show any of the gorgeous steeliness that makes the reputation of Chablis, but it comes close enough for a wine of this price.  It is very frank, racy and bright, without the jarring acidity that some wines of this nature exhibit.

It might even need a few years if you want some of the deeper complexity of a traditional Burgundy.  And that complexity will be there, since I also tasted fairly intense yeastiness, creaminess, and a biscuity flavor that will be the foundation of earthier elements later on.

Spring is right around the corner, so this wine will be perfect with asparagus, stir-fried vegetables, or Halibut.  Even now, give it a shot with a Pasta Carbonara or Alfredo.  It will contrast nicely with the egg or cream in those dishes.

Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay Santa Rita Hills 2017 – $30 (B2 W3)

“Full fruit” is a trite expression in the wine business, oftentimes used as an excuse for wine that has no complexity. What a stunner it is to taste a wine that has so many points of flavor, including primary lemon, pear, and peach flavors, as well as earthier flavors of caramel and treacle, yet tastes like wine, not grape juice. The restrained oak and clean palate on this wine truly makes you pause and reflect, as you slowly break out into a smile.

Dehlinger Chardonnay Estate Unfiltered (Russian River Valley) 2017 – $44-47 (B2 W3)

In the wine business, we use “vanilla” as a descriptor when we mean the influence that oak has on a white wine, but with the Dehlinger Unfiltered, I tasted vanilla like you would get from a bean.  Nothing jarring, mind you. 

All the aromas in this wine – fairly intense lemon, yeast, treacle extract, and even toast on the end – were medium-intensity, and well-knit.  The wine is very clean, bright, and youthful.  But it still has plenty of time to age.

California white wine as it should, and can, be.  Fantastic.