Interview with André Tamers, Founder of De Maison Selections, a US importer focused on exceptional and artisanal Spanish (and French) wines Interview with André Tamers, Founder of De Maison Selections Wine Imports
What was it about wines from Spain that first caught your attention?
I think anyone who has a passion for art, food, and culture is attracted to Spain. For me personally, I had read Hemingway and Cervantes, of course, and studied Chillida and Tapies, but I didn't realize how varied and rich the history of wine was until I moved there. Wine is such an important part of the Spanish culture that exploring its depth was fascinating.
What inspired you to start De Maison? How did you get into the importing scene?
I started my career in the retail and distribution trade in New York City. This was in the late 1980s when France and California dominated the market on high-quality wines and Spain was only known for Rioja basically. I left New York to study art in Barcelona and during my 3 years there, I was exposed to the large breadth and exceptional quality of the regional wines of Spain. The Spanish food revolution was just beginning and it was an exciting time to taste the new ideas coming from different regions. Three years in Spain convinced me that I wanted to bring these ideas to the United States.
When I returned to the US in 1995, I started my company with the idea to import family estates from Spain and France. My mother is French and the name of the company, De Maison, is her maiden name. My grandfather was from the Haute Savoie region of France, had three daughters, and his name was going to disappear. With my initial contacts in Spain and France, I was able to put a small portfolio into place that would eventually grow into what the company is today: an importing company with no private labels dedicated to the farmers and the people of these two great winemaking countries.
There are seemingly endless regions, grapes, and things to learn about Spanish wine. Was there any experience or resource in particular that you think of as your ah-ah moment in starting to learn about or work with Spanish wine?
I will always remember tasting a bottle of Pesquera in the eighties and realizing that this wine was at the same level as the great estates of France.
Is there any particular region of Spain that you've worked with extensively or is especially close to your heart?
The Basque Country has always been dear to me from the beginning of my travels in Spain. I discovered there the fabulous cuisine and culture which led me to their unique wine called Txakolina. This incredibly joyous wine has become a phenomenon in the United States.
You represent all three Txakoli DO’s—why has this region in particular become so beloved by sommeliers (and ultimately consumers)? How has your experience been working with these producers and bringing them into the US market?
I jokingly call myself the “King of Txacoli” because I fell in love with these wines when I lived in Spain and would visit the Basque Country. When you “tapear” through the streets of San Sebastian and Bilbao, you don’t want heavy high alcohol wines, and Txacoli is fresh and flavorful and simply delicious. There weren’t many good representations in the US market when I started bringing them in 20 plus years ago and I found that they fit perfectly with the trend that was starting in the US for small plates and hybrid bar/restaurants. It became a genuine passion to share these wines and tell their story, which was tied to the history of the food culture in the region. The response to Txacoli was so immediate and positive that there was no question that we needed to bring in the best producers from each of the DO’s. These three areas of Txacoli represented different and fascinating aspects of the wine, confirming that this is one of the unique wines of the world. Today, the wines continue to evolve in styles and formats showing their limitless potential. I think sommeliers and consumers love these wines because of their lower alcohol, and because they pair with so many different types of foods, from Thai to BBQ to traditional tapas. And for us, they signal the beginning of spring and picnic season.
At the risk of understating, the world looks a little different today than it did a year ago. How did COVID impact your business? How about the wineries you work with?
The impact of COVID was multifaceted and challenging because we are a company with a very specific portfolio of wines enjoyed by the sector most affected by the pandemic: local restaurants. I am proud of the fact we endured the year retaining our entire team and actually using the time to refocus our efforts on creating much more intensive content and optimizing the dissemination of this valuable information through all the mediums available to us. The wineries we represent were well-positioned to endure the pandemic as they all owned vineyards and were incredibly supportive to us during this trying time.
Have you seen any trends recently in the Spanish wine space? Beyond the more familiar Rioja and Tempranillo, are any particular regions or grapes having their moment in the limelight?
Spain continues to be one of the most dynamic and exciting countries in Europe. Because of its incredible biodiversity and its openness to change, they are now excelling on all fronts. There are newer regions such as Galicia that are now catapulting into the pantheon of European wines, and classic regions like Jerez where we still have yet to discover their huge potential.
What are some of your all-time favorite Spanish bottles or food pairings? Any tapas you couldn’t live without?
Fino sherry and raw oysters are a spectacular combination that many people don't know about. Jamón ibérico lives on as one of the greatest cured offerings in the world, and I couldn't live without it.
And now, the classic closer question: if you could have only had one case of wine during lockdown, what would it have been?
Do Ferreiro Cepas Vellas, in any year!