World wine consumers are enjoying a Golden Age, with easier access to a broader spectrum of better made and more interesting wines than at any other time in history. But unlike other recent revolutionary advances in access – in information, music, literature, visual art, taxicab service – the world of wine isn’t quite flat. It still deals with a physical product whose costs of production vary wildly. It still needs to be moved around, and because it’s alcohol, there are all sorts of legal restrictions to navigate.

The Golden Age is not the same everywhere. Maine, with a small, scattered population mostly rural and suburban, suffering under jurisdictional procedures still tainted by Puritanism, is definitely not a modern-day Athens. Maine oenophiles who seek new and unfamiliar wines and full immersion in what this endlessly diverse product can express, sometimes feel walled in.

But less and less. A wave of new wines, some brought to the United States by established importers newly distributing in Maine and others from recently launched importers, has arrived here. And a few Maine distributors are working harder than ever to bring in wines from the West Coast that have evolved past the caricaturishly blowsy, bombastic profile of Big America.

A reminder: No wine from another country can be sold in the United States without routing through a three-tier system, which includes the producer who makes the wine, the wholesale “distributor” who arranges with the winery to ship wine here and the “retailer” who sells the wine to the customer. To get you all good and confused, note that these terms are slippery. Some states, including Maine, add an additional tier: the state distributor, who provides logistics and sales support to retailers and restaurants. In such states, the original three-tier “distributor” gets called an “importer.”

I’m not alone in arguing that one of the better ways to discover new wines is to follow importers. When you encounter a wine you enjoy, note the importer (usually listed on the bottle’s back label) and seek out more of her wines. Any retailer can help you with this. Importers are people, with particular prejudices and tastes. If you enjoy that importer’s Côtes du Rhône, you’ve got a better than average chance of liking his Rioja.

The exciting news about so many of the extraordinary wines now available in Maine is that while the importers operate on a very small scale (1 to 3 employees), the state distributors operate on a relatively large one. That’s right, it’s the big guys who are pushing the envelope hardest right now.

As recently as five years ago, a compelling (if controversially incomplete and one-sided) Maine Magazine article claimed that our state’s smaller, more nimble distributors (Crush, Easterly, SoPo, Devenish, Mariner) were a priori more trustworthy for good wine, since their founders were wine lovers, while the larger distributors (Nappi, National, Pine State, Central) were run by corporate bean-counters. The little guys were finding boutiquey, idiosyncratic, passionate importers to work with. According to the story, the biggies were using their market power (fueled by beer sales) to push mediocre, generic wines that satisfied distant multinationals.

This was never an accurate picture, but telling consumers to look for a small Maine distributor’s name on the 15-cent deposit sticker provided a useful framework for steering them toward good, small-production wines.

Now, though, the name of the distributor is far less meaningful, because capitalism worked: The little guys changed the rules, and now the big guys are playing the game. The game favors curiosity, openness to new flavors, commitment to cultural diversity, and a fierce defense of balance and grace in wine, over power and sheen. If we, as wine drinkers, play this game well, we will be partly responsible for improving not only the character of wine culture in Maine, but also the future of responsible winemaking worldwide.

For the vast majority of these importers have distinct points of view, which emerge from an engagement with the most pressing issues in agriculture and economics today. Their emphasis is on organic farming or at least drastic reduction in pesticide use, and wines made with minimal technological and chemical intervention.

The wines themselves are supple and lithe, with balanced alcohol levels. They are often (though not always) from less well-known regions, since the Big Bs – Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello – have been largely priced out of relevance by international richies who boost overall prices as they amass trophy cellars.

Pricing on the small-importer wines generally is based on unconventionally tight margins, transparently represented, with often limited supplies meant to sell quickly in a few markets. Translation: The wines are here, but sometimes not for long.

Schatzi Wines is a two-year-old import company begun by Kevin Pike, a longtime driving force behind Terry Theise’s exceptional portfolio of German, Austrian and Champagne wines. Pike formed the company with the Rheingau’s esteemed Johannes Leitz, and now imports a small selection of wines from France, Austria and Germany. Seek out the spicy, toned Altenburger blaufränkisch; savory pinot noir from Heger; and benchmark rieslings from Spindler and Leitz.

Langdon Shiverick is a larger, longer-standing importer, some of whose portfolio is just now available in Maine. I’ve been delighted by so many of these wines. Try the full-bodied, fleshy Samuel Billaud Chablis; a waxy, floral white Côtes du Rhône from Domaine de la Solitude; the charred, licorice-tinged, negrette-based wines of Fronton’s Domaine le Roc; an earthy, pure, biodynamically farmed Chinon from Béatrice and Pascal Lambert that comes in a 3-liter box; and a gorgeously spicy but surprisingly delicate Vacqueyras from Domaine du Terme.

Jenny and François is a well-respected importer of expressly “natural” wines: no chemical herbicides, only indigenous yeasts, handpicking, little or no filtration or sulfites, etc. I am not a natural-wine Kool-Aid drinker, but the Jenny and François wines I love have this enthralling softness, transparency and depth. The Clos Siguier Cahors is surprisingly light, fresh and silky for the appellation. The Gaspard pinot noir is from the Loire Valley’s Saint Pourçain, vinified semi-carbonically, vibrant and ripe. The Domaine Binner riesling from an esteemed biodynamic producer in Alsace stands on its own, one of the two or three most exciting new wines I’ve tasted all year: creamy, calm and plungingly deep, fully dry, intense, respirating, confident.

Serge Doré has been importing for 20 years. I’ve only recently become acquainted with his portfolio, and have fallen quite hard for several Bordeaux. The Château de Francs Côtes de Francs is dominated by cabernet franc, structured but with a creamy, milk chocolate lusciousness. And two white Bordeaux, at opposite ends of the spectrum: the Château la Grande Métairie Entre-Deux-Mers Blanc is an unbeatable, mouthwatering weeknight wine, playing sauvignon gris and muscadelle off the sauvignon blanc with style. The white Château de Portets Blanc from Graves is at another level entirely, a wine of majority semillon with some sauvignon blanc that ages in oak after six months of bâtonnage (lees stirring). It drips with fig, peach and honey, sensually overpacked, yet acidity is strong, the wine is dry and the finish is clean; simply incredible.

Don’t get caught up in the tasting notes. The memorable aspect here is that many Maine people are working harder than ever to create a vital, progressive culture for wine love in our state. You and I ought to work just as hard to explore the abounding options.

Joe Appel is the wine buyer at Rosemont Market. He can be reached at:

[email protected]