March 13, 2010

Self-made 'Monsieur Touton' a bonafide biggie among distributors

His Count

— Guillaume Touton was like any 20-year-old in France looking for a job. Living in Bordeaux, he was working for his father in a wine business and in search of an alternative. He traveled to Canada, where he eventually found his way to the French-speaking Montreal, where he spent six years selling wine.

But he knew he had to learn English if he was going to flourish in North America, so he traveled to New York City to engage his trade. The challenges of his youth prepared him well for the competitive import business he would later launch.

He's come a long way. Today, the name Touton is well-known on the East Coast as one of the most prolific importers of French wine. ''Monsieur Touton,'' as Guillaume is known, used his connections in Bordeaux and a friendship with Alexis Lichine to recruit producers who are still with him today. By his count he represents a ''few hundred'' producers from several countries, employs 82 sales people and has offices in New York, Boston and Washington. We doubt any importer represents this many producers.

During a recent visit, Touton told us that his success is a result of understanding what sells -- a sixth sense he developed as a salesman.

''The wine I select comes from my experience on the street. Then, I tell the grower how I want the labels to look,'' he says.

Touton obsesses about his labels. He knows a consumer's first impression is what he sees outside of the bottle, but critics have said equal attention must be given to what's inside the bottle.

His wines have not attracted the attention of critics like Robert Parker Jr., but Touton is not disappointed. He says that, unlike his competitors in the import business, he doesn't have to depend on rave reviews to be successful.

Many of the Touton wines we tasted were simple -- even average -- but represented great values. That's something he can accomplish because he eschews costly distributors.

''I love a recession. We do very well,'' he says.

Here are some of the Touton wines to look for:

Monsieur Touton Sauvignon Blanc White Bordeaux 2007 ($10). Touton says this wine ''put him on the map.'' Very expressive, long in the finish, it is a classic sauvignon blanc with nice mineral notes.

Chateau Prignac Medoc 2005 ($13). Well-made Bordeaux from a good vintage, it is simple with dark fruit flavors and good structure.

Josephine Dubois Grand Reserve Bourgogne Rouge 2005 ($13). This pinot noir from Burgundy offers silky, simple cherry flavors with a dash of spice.

Flavium Crianza Bierzo 2005 ($12). Here's a deal from the northwest corner of Spain. Ripe cherry flavors with intense floral aromas and a hint of licorice.

Tomaiolo Chianti Riserva 2003 ($13). Wild berry flavors, medium body and bright berry aromas.


The Leeuwin Estate Artist Series Riesling 2006 ($20). Many years ago we stumbled onto these boutique wines made in western Australia. There aren't many wineries in that part of the country, but the Margaret River area is becoming known for its exceptional wines, which are absolutely stunning and well worth the search. This riesling ranks as one of our favorites. Classic lemon-lime and mineral notes with a honeysuckle nose and fresh acidity.

Goldeneye Pinot Noir Anderson Valley 2005 ($55). From the Duckhorn family of wines, this beauty displays an exotic, spicy wild cherry nose that invites you to taste. Full and rich in the mouth with spicy cherry flavors. Very tasty and pleasing.

Joseph Drouhin Chorley-les Beaune 2006 ($25). Classic red Burgundy nose with wild cherry and spice notes. Clean fruit in the mouth with a hint of mushrooms. If you want a hint of what Burgundy is all about try this wine. You can drink it now, but it will gain complexity and age well for at least three to five years.

J. Lohr Cuvee St. E Paso Robles Red Wine 2000 ($53). Amazingly, this 2000 release is the current vintage of this statement wine from Jerry Lohr. Interesting bold nose of ripe plums and strawberries. In the mouth the flavors are of ripe plums and cherries. Exotic and drinking perfectly now.

Luna Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot 2005 ($34). If merlot is your favorite, here's a big juicy version that will be hard to stop drinking at one glass. Lots of floral aromas with raspberry flavors, earthy mushrooms and fine tannins.

La Crema Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2006 ($32). La Crema specializes in pinot noir, so it isn't surprising that this wine is a class act. One of several appelation-specific pinot noirs it makes, the Russian River Valley version has great spice. Silky tannins, rich black cherry flavors.

Windsor Sonoma Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2006 ($24). Varietal raspberry and blackberry flavors with a touch of boysenberry, black pepper and cherries.

Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr have visited vineyards all over the world and have been writing a newspaper wine column for more than 20 years.


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