Master Sommelier Dustin Wilson, who is also co-founder of Verve Wines—a retail wine business with shops in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco— was bracing for the worst when the COVID pandemic shook the globe in March 2020. “When it was all going down,” he recently said from his home in Manhattan, “I was worried about how we were going to care for our team and keep the business alive. It didn’t cross my mind that we might be considered an essential business.”
Turns out that yes, wine shops, defined by the U.S. government, are essential.
Not only did Verve remain open, but the pandemic boosted wine sales. Wilson and his team pivoted towards an online-only business and began shipping wines directly to customers. The pandemic also provided an opportunity for more wine drinking. While Verve clients are, as Wilson describes, “pretty adventurous to begin with,” his clients began to show a growing desire for more wine education and trying new producers, grapes, or styles to pass the time.
“We sold lots of weird things, all over the map,” he says. “Our guests tend to take recommendations to try new fun varietals from unknown regions,” he says.
Contemporary wine consumers, especially younger oenophiles, are particularly open to trying wines beyond the world’s most established wine regions, says Wilson. They prefer a more hands-off, esoteric, natural style.
“Whether it comes from Mexico, New Zealand, or South Africa,” Wilson says, “these wines are attracting new customers who care less about where the wines are coming from. If the wine is good, they will pull people in.”
While Wilson admits he has a lot of learning left to do when it comes to Mexican wines, Verve sells two exciting Mexican wine brands—Tresomm and Bichi—which bring wild fermented wines from the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja and Tecate to the American market.
“Add in that people like Mexican food and culture,” says Wilson, “and you’ve got a winning combination for younger, more adventurous drinkers.”
Taylor Grant, one of the three American sommeliers behind Tresomm, says the combination of diverse winemakers and interesting grape varietals have made it an exciting region for Tresomm’s rosé, white, and red wine production.
“These vineyards are in the valley where it is cool at night,” she explains. “The grapes retain that freshness and acidity. Valle de Guadalupe is a great place to ripen grapes and a great region for quality wines.”
WHAT’S ON DUSTIN WILSON’S DINNER TABLE? TRY A BOTTLE FROM THESE UP-AND-COMING REGIONS.
“I’m a big fan of Spanish wines, but not your typical stuff, like from Rioja. Garnacha from Sierra de Gredos is great, and Mencía varietals are grown in the Galicia mountains. I also like some of the cool, interesting stuff they are making out of the Canary Islands.”
“I’ve been really impressed with Sicilian wines lately. The white wine from Girolamo Russo is a blend of the local grapes and it’s super tasty, with a lot of minerality coming from volcanic soils of Mt. Etna.”
Wilson also recommends Tressom and Bichi (above) as top Mexican wines. Known for bringing varietals from the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja, Tressom is organically farmed and hand harvested, while Bichi celebrates the terroir of the Tecate region. The brand is celebrated for its eccentric labels (as seen above), unknown grape varietals and choosing idiosyncratic labels.