Mary Taylor wines – an article from the N.Y. Times – Rosso Wine Shop referenced for sourcing

Mary Taylor wines in the wild

For young people on tight budgets who want to learn more about wine, the points of entry can be discouraging. Plenty of cheap wine is out there. But much of it is not very good.

Supermarket aisles are stocked with inexpensive, cunningly branded wines, packaged not to educate consumers about what’s inside the container but to appeal to one’s predilections, whether cute animals, titillation, desserts or an air of gloomy mystery.

Other wines, like those labeled “clean” or “gluten-free,” capitalize on consumer ignorance by making exaggerated claims or drawing fallacious contrasts (yes, virtually all wines are gluten-free).

Then you have wines that are good, honest renditions of historical styles, made using traditional methods. Sadly, these are often hard to pick out of the crowd because they require consumers to have some knowledge of both producers and wine labeling.

The situation is even more difficult for those who want to understand bottles from Old World regions, which can often bury young, English-speaking consumers under an avalanche of indecipherable terminology.

Enter Mary Taylor, a wine entrepreneur, who has made it her business to fill this void. She offers a simple, elegant solution, one that does not pander, condescend or dumb down.

Instead, she has come up with a packaging approach for European appellation wines that is clear, consistent and unembellished, displaying the provenance and the producer on clean, white labels, with an easy-to-read-font. All the wines in her white-label line are tied together by a subtle, subordinate “Mary Taylor” signature.

They are excellent values, priced at $13 to $19 and now available in 38 states, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, along with Canada, Sweden and Britain. Most important, the wines she has chosen are all good, forthright, unadorned representations of their terroirs.

It hardly seems like a revolutionary, or even novel, idea, to put together a similar combination of good wine, clear packaging and modest prices. And it raises the question of whether a brand can succeed simply by presenting the goods, without flummery.

To put it another way, for years the wine industry has rationalized inexpensive, bad wines as “gateway bottles,” steppingstones for consumers who eventually will graduate to the good stuff. It doesn’t matter what they drink, the thinking goes, so long as they are paying for wine.

But what if curious young people were offered legitimate gateway bottles, gently priced introductions that gave an appealing taste of the wider world beyond?

Ms. Taylor’s Bordeaux Rouge 2018 is a good example. Bordeaux is better known in its luxury guise, expensive bottles from prestigious areas like St.-Julien and Pomerol, aged for years and sipped reverently by connoisseurs. But Bordeaux is a huge region with myriad small producers making good (and bad) wines at every price.

This bottle, with the simple Bordeaux appellation, made by Jean Marc Barthez, head of a small cooperative in the greater Bordeaux area, is precisely the sort of wine you imagine the locals drinking, at least, those without the big chateaus. It’s supple, dry, fresh, mildly tannic, humble and direct, just a good, refreshing drink. I’ve seen it priced from $12 to $18.

In a sense, she is capitalizing on one of the oldest tricks of wine-lovers, shopping by importer. No wine consumer, not even experts, can hope to know every producer. Instead, over time, they learn which importers’ tastes tend to align with their own. Remembering the names of several importers is a lot easier than memorizing dozens or hundreds of producers.

One might object that Ms. Taylor is franchising wine, removing the mystery like franchise food options at interstate rest stops rather than independent mom-and-pops. If anything, the opposite is true. She is instead making available in her line good, small, independent producers who otherwise might never have cut through the noise.

“The uniformity is the packaging, not the wine or the appellation,” she said. “My hope is that this convention creates a safe space for people to explore the unknown.”

Mary Taylor at her home

What led her to this project? Ms. Taylor, 44, originally from Concord, Mass., has worked in many parts of the wine business, including retail, auctions, restaurants, distributing and imports. She remembers how she felt when young and curious about wine.

“I built it with empathy for my 24-year-old self, living in a railroad apartment with a low budget,” she said. “I’m not against expensive wine, but I just wanted to make something affordable.”

She remembered what it felt like to be confronted with a store full of bottles with no good way to distinguish one from the other.

“There’s a lot of good wine out there, hiding in awful packaging,” she said. “It’s really hard for the everyday person not-so-into wine to find these sorts of wine. They want to explore, but it’s hard. I’m very much trying to make it less dicey.”

Ms. Taylor made a conscious decision not to put the names of grapes on the front label, preferring instead to emphasize the geography, as historic wine-drinking countries have for ages.

“If Americans treated cheese like we treat wine, we would have cow, sheep and goat, not the lexicon we know and enjoy,” she said. “I spent a lot of time thinking about how to get Americans to drink geographically. I looked at the top-selling wines in America and thought that the true European appellation wine was sorely missing.”

Ms. Taylor has been toying with the idea since 2011, but felt unequipped to capitalize on it properly. So, in 2015 she refinanced the mortgage on her apartment in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, and went to business school at N.Y.U., where she received an M.B.A. in 2017.

In 2019, she made Mary Taylor Wine her full-time job. Currently, she offers 20 wines in her white-label line, 15 from France, two from Portugal, two from Italy and one from Spain. In addition, she offers four bottles at a lower price, $10 to $12, that display regional identifications rather than the more specific appellations.

One of these, a juicy, balanced, uncomplicated yet delicious red from Castilla y León, a large region northwest of Madrid, is terrific, made entirely of prieto picudo, an obscure grape grown virtually nowhere else in the world. It’s a great deal.

Ms. Taylor’s white-label wines include well-known appellations like Anjou, Beaujolais-Villages, Cahors, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine and Dão in Portugal.

But they also encompass obscure places that even French wine experts may rarely encounter, places like Buzet in southwestern France (a really nice red of 80 percent merlot and 20 percent cabernet sauvignon that is earthy and chewy) and Valençay, a Loire appellation better known for cheese than wine (the red — 35 percent gamay, 35 percent côt, as malbec is known there, and 30 percent pinot noir — is easygoing, with chalky flavors of red fruits).

“Unfamiliarity is sort of the point,” she said. “Our back labels lay out the varietals, offer a map and a little of the story. I hope to guide people into the unknown in an approachable way.”

Other favorites among Ms. Taylor’s bottles include a 2020 Gaillac Perlé, a very lightly effervescent white from the southwest of France that is fresh, lively and textured; a brisk, floral- and citrus-flavored 2019 Dão; and an excellent 2019 Anjou red that could be an archetypal bistro wine.

Ms. Taylor is considering adding some slightly more expensive wines to her line, like a Pouilly-Fumé and a Provençal rosé made largely of the excellent tibouren grape, bottles that she would not be able to squeeze into the $13 to $20 range. They will receive a slightly different packaging to distinguish them.

All of the wines, she said, are from growers who farm conscientiously, even if they are not necessarily organic or biodynamic. They are made with minimal intervention, though they would not be called natural wines.

The Saint-Pourcain available at Rosso Wine Shop

“I built this not to have an entree into the cool kids, but for people honestly trying to explore wines,” she said.

Practices that would not be tolerated by natural wine fans, like harvesting by machine rather than by hand, do not deter her.

“I don’t think a grad student on a budget would find this that important,” she said.

Many of the producers are women. Ms. Taylor feels that in small family operations, the man has always gotten most of the credit, despite the contributions of women. “When does she get recognized?” she asked.

How does she measure whether her vision is succeeding?

“A retailer in Georgia recently told my distributor that young adults were now asking for the Valençay by name,” she said. “He said, ‘Tell Mary her plan is working.’”

Rosso Wine Shop carries a number of Mary Taylor’s French collection:

2020 Mary Taylor Anjou Blanc (Biatteau) $17.99 France
2018 Mary Taylor Bordeaux Rouge $16.99 France
2020 Mary Taylor St Pourcain Rosé $19.99 France

Try some! and support good wine.

Rosso Blog

Owner Jeff Zimmitti at his boutique wine shop in Glendale, California

VoyageLA feature

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jeff Zimmitti.

Jeff, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I started paying attention to wine in the mid-Nineties. As a touring musician (in my previous life) I got to tour and see the world. And in those travels I learned to love the “eat and drink local” concept. And when you say local, in Europe, that means what grows and is produced nearby. That concept has really crept into the American psyche in the last few years but 20+ years ago that really wasn’t the case here. I am decidedly self-taught in wine. I did take some continuing education wine classes and completed a culinary program in 2005 but there is no substitute for experience. There is only so much you can read, you have to do. And in 2006, after doing quite a bit of due diligence and writing a thorough business plan I stumbled upon the space where Rosso Wine Shop is currently. Without any prior business experience, I jumped right in. Eleven years later and I still love it.

Has it been a smooth road?
Smooth. Ha! That word does not exist in the small business lexicon. You have to keep your foot on the gas at all times. And just about everything has to go your way just to survive. In Los Angeles a person can buy wine on every street corner. Oh yea, struggles; dealing with bureaucracy to open, finding your audience, finding money when your cash flow sucks, hoping you have a great landlord when you enter into your lease, building relationships with your supply chain to get good service… running a small business is one big, beautiful struggle. I wish I could say it was a bowl of cherries, but it’s not. You have to love what you do or you will soon realize that you lack the stamina to continue. Dig in. Believe in what you do. And have friends with money.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Rosso Wine Shop – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Rosso Wine Shop is an independent wine shop that specializes in small production but affordable wines. We strive to keep customer service and wine expertise in the front of our mind. We taste the bad wines so you don’t have to. There are thousands of wines out there and we are here to help. I wanted to start a neighborhood shop to keep alive that spirit of a local merchant who has a passion in their chosen field. Just like it used to be before malls and super stores. Our wine selections are divided by country, region, type and price, like a restaurant wine list. I have maps that I have illustrated on all of the walls along with images from those regions to give people a sense of place. We play good music and talk wine all day long. What is there not to like?

Favorite childhood memory?
Going to my first rock concert at age twelve. My parents took me to see Kiss with Judas Priest opening. Awesome. It was loud. Intense. And I completely lost myself in the moment, until a stranger passed a joint to us, and I looked at my parents. Just kidding, they turned it down, of course. I was twelve.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
Likes: Los Angeles has so many options; you can go to the beach and hit the ski slopes in the same day. We have art, music, a thriving restaurant scene, parks, and the sun, a good majority of the time. And believe me L.A.-transplants, you won’t miss the seasons.

Least like: too many people. I’m sure everyone says that but it’s true. If there were less people we always say everything in L.A. is 20 minutes away.