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Wine

Natural Wine, But Make It Normcore

January 05, 2021

Story: Miguel de Leon

art: Nick Hensley

Wine

Natural Wine, But Make It Normcore

January 05, 2021

Story: Miguel de Leon

art: Nick Hensley

Mary Taylor’s collection of wines from unsung regions has become an antidote to the wine world’s current fashions.

At first glance, all of Mary Taylor’s wines look the same: a simple white label, no-nonsense copperplate font with her name, an appellation, the person who made the wine and the village or town in which they live. There are no grape varieties listed, and you’d be forgiven if you’ve never heard of the appellations at the top of the font hierarchy. (Valençay isn’t exactly on everyone’s wine lists.) She likens the labels to book covers in a Parisian shop: “They may all look similar but inside, you get something unique.”

Taylor launched her eponymous importing company in 2013, following a career in the early 2000s as a cheesemonger in Massachusetts, where she quickly decoded regionality and the secret language of appellations. Her first wines from satellite regions in France were uncomplicated monovarietal bottlings, wines considered “too normal” by colleagues. While others came upon the same wines in storied tasting fairs like the one held annually in Angers, Taylor would discover her favorite wines from crates of samples, vet the vignerons and viticulteurs by tasting with them, evaluate their sustainability records and negotiate imports directly. While not unlike the way in which many importers make new discoveries, her mission sets her apart.

Taylor wants to make noise in the industry’s “boys clubs,” right down to the labels, which stand intently opposed to the natural wine scene’s obsession with surreal, abstract label art—a genre I call “My Kid’s Drawings That Should Have Stayed on the Fridge”—and its tendency to focus on atypical varieties and emergent regions. Her labels are meant to evoke steadfast tradition and an easygoing classicism, and the wines themselves impart an attitude of “you should know this.”

At first glance, however, Taylor’s portfolio might seem out of step, highlighting places adjacent to the textbook Great Wine Regions of Europe and a long car ride from natural wine’s hot spots. In lieu of Southern Rhône, she highlights the Costières de Nîmes, where she brings in a typical hearty grenache blend from Pierre Vidal; against grand Bordeaux, the virtually unheard of Buzet, where Christophe Avi aims high with an elegant, plush merlot; instead of Sancerre, the less-glamorous Anjou, where Pascal Biotteau coaxes electricity out of chenin blanc. Beyond France, it’s not a surprise to find wines from the undersung Dão (Portugal) or unheralded Navarra (Spain) likewise in lieu of their more famous neighbors. Taylor’s “think outside the grape” approach, as she calls it, comes from her cheese background: If Americans can understand naming and appellation rules for cheese for places like Stilton, Gouda and Camembert, they can grasp the idea of Cahors just as easily. 

I discovered her wines at a tasting lineup about two years ago: Initially, the starkness of her labels piqued my curiosity, but the integrity of what was in each bottle continued to draw me in. All of her wines are sustainably farmed, with stringent biodiversity requirements and “high environmental value,” a majority of which could be classified as natural. Importantly, they all fall under $20 a bottle. 

Unlike her peers, Taylor’s success can be attributed to markets like Vermont and South Carolina—not New York or Los Angeles. “New York is a horrible place to brand-build,” says Taylor. “Everyone is fighting for a slice of this very small pie.” She has chosen, instead, to put effort into the cities where she can have a considerable impact on improving the way in which people drink at an entry-level price point. “I know it’s not cool to be commercial,” she says, “but to discount someone in Ohio this kind of wine experience because she’s just interested in wine and [she’s] not the most knowledgeable makes me want to cater to her instead.” 

It is this intent of access for the consumer, alongside the elevation of the producer’s work, that makes Taylor’s vision important for the future of wine; it acknowledges natural wine’s shortcomings for folks who aren’t in the cool crowd and those whose wallets are thinner. “If my dad loves my wine and millennials in Nashville can too, and my wines are well under $20 in retail settings, I’ve done it,” she says. “I want to make something that appeals to everyone.”

Mary Taylor In One Wine

Mary Taylor Buzet Christophe Avi Vigneron à Laplume 2015

Classic, elegant and a nod to Taylor’s sensibility, this unoaked merlot blend is built for mass appeal by vigneron Christophe Avi. “Every single wine I bring in has its own karmic entrance into my life. I loved it and brought it to a wine club dinner and blinded everyone with it alongside great Bordeaux like Margaux and Palmer, and they fell in love with my mystery wine,” Taylor recounts. Clay-limestone soils provide the clarity for scrummy black fruit, coffee and tobacco, developing into a rich, smooth finish. Made an hour outside of Bordeaux, the wine hits just as hard and does not feel out of place on a grand wine list, at a fraction of the cost. [$16 BUY]

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