Here’s the single most important bit of information on a wine bottle

<span>Photograph: EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER/Getty Images

We all have our ways of picking wine from the great big, baffling wall of bottles at the supermarket or local merchant. Some of us choose by grape variety. We know roughly what we’ll get from malbec or sauvignon blanc, chardonnay or pinot noir, no matter where it’s grown. For others, it’s the place that is most significant, the particular style of wine they make in Bordeaux or Rioja, Marlborough or Mendoza. Labels and brands might play a role but not as much as they do when buying cereal, chocolate, or beer. There are few wine brands that retailers consider as essential as Corn Flakes, Cadbury’s or Stella. As for independent merchants, bars and restaurants, they will actively seek out the unfamiliar.

For me, one of the best ways of navigating a set of unfamiliar wines is to look at the back of the bottle. There, usually in quite small print, you’ll find what might be the single most useful piece of information on a wine you’ve never come across before: the name of the importer. These are the wine business’s equivalent of publishers or record labels and if you want a quick way of finding bottles you’ll like, it’s worth getting to know them and their ways.

Some are not much more than brokers, scanning the world’s bulk wine market for the cheapest possible juice, which is how the more commercial end of the wine trade refers to what is often the least important part of the product. It’s then repackaged and sent to the supermarkets. The best have more in common with indie record labels or boutique publishers: they are tastemakers, finding new and exciting wines they feel passionate about, taking risks on lesser-known producers, regions and grape varieties. In the process, they develop portfolios of makers and wines which, while not exactly sharing a house style, have a certain familial resemblance and reliable level of quality.

It’s not always a matter of scale. Some of the UK importers I most admire are large concerns that have mastered the difficult art of sourcing good-quality affordable wine in large quantities from all over the world. Others specialise in gathering collections of well known, often historic family producers. There are importers who have cornered the market in natural wine and organic wine, and specialists in pretty much every country and region you care to think of. Next time you find a bottle you like, have a look and see who imported it: there’s a good chance you’ll like their other bottles, too.

Six great wine from six great importers

Cuvée Jean-Paul Blanc Sec
IGP Côtes de Gascogne, France 2022
(from £8,;

Greater Manchester-based Boutinot has a knack of finding wines that offer a great deal of bang for buck. This dry white from Armagnac country in south-west France certainly does that: full of ripe tropical fruit, lime and leafy-grassy tones, it’s a fine alternative to sauvignon blanc.

Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes du Rhône
France 2022
(£12.99, or £8.99 as part of a mixed case of six,

Alongside the likes of CVNE, Errazuriz and Taittinger, Rhône bigwig Chapoutier is part of a club of respected, largely family-owned producers from around the world gathered together by Ascot-based Hatch Mansfield. This unoaked brambly, peppery-spicy, herby hit is brilliant value.

Las Estelas Leticia Cabernet Cabernet
Mendoza, Argentina 2021

Ucopia Wines is a name to look out for if you want to explore the new wave from South America. It’s represented here by this gloriously floral-fragrant and succulent blackcurrant-juicy blend of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon, from high up in the Andes in Tupungato, Mendoza.

Quinta Milú Roble
Ribera del Duero, Spain 2021
(from £16.60,;

While it has since spread its wings to source characterful small-producers from all over the world, Indigo Wines is perhaps best known for its remarkable range of modern Spanish producers, for wines, such as this vividly mulberry-fruited red, that have changed perceptions of that country’s vino.

Cantine Rallo Baglio Terre Siciliane
Sicily, Italy 2022 (from £16.95,;

As pioneers and defenders of natural wine, few importers have been more influential in the past couple of decades as Les Caves de Pyrene. It remains the first port of call for fans of this frequently delicious genre, offering great bottles such as this red-apple, tangy Sicilian orange wine.

Niepoort Drink Me Nat’Cool Branco
Portugal 2022 (from £19.95, 1 litre,;;

Raymond Reynolds, a Peak District-based firm run by the eponymous lusophile, is a treasure trove of intriguing Portuguese wines. Its list is a who’s who of the country’s leading producers, including Dirk Niepoort, the restlessly experimental winemaker behind this super-zesty light white.