Brian DiMarco is the owner and founder of the Barterhouse, a wine import company on a mission. Brian seeks to develop an equivalent of the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" for wines and, in so doing, guarantee that everyone can choose a good wine at a moment's notice. His game is to sample fine wines the world over at a range of price points and of all sorts of grape medleys and then reward those that deliver the most bang for the buck with the Barterhouse seal. The old "It's a tough job, but someone has to do it," line springs to mind!
The Barterhouse stamp, an ancient symbol for "art over religion," mirrors a tattoo Brian got during his college years—though the location of the tattoo remains a secret. Brian's lovely wife, Kristin, may still be on the search.
Brian's hope is that, once you have sampled and enjoyed a few Barterhouse-approved wines, you will be willing to branch out and sample a different wine from a region or of a grape you've never had before because you trust their taste buds and olfactory prowess. Brian found his calling in the wine business by realizing his unique ability to discern flavors and pairings while studying at the French Culinary Institute.
"For me, it's all about giving the consumer great quality at a particular price point. We never wanted to be snobby about wine, because I don't think more money guarantees a better bottle," Brian says. "We realized it turns people off when picking wines becomes too difficult and expensive, and happy wine drinkers are frequent wine drinkers." Amen to that.
As he spoke, Brian selected five under-$25 bottles from his room-size cooler for my first lesson: a 2005 Chateau Brande-Berger Bordeaux Superieur Cuvee O'Byrne from France, a 2007 Bodega Bouza Tannat Las Violetas from Uruguay, a 2008 Dr. Karl Christoffel Mosel Riesling from Germany, a 2008 Zaccagnini il Castello Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi from Italy and a 2005 Caves Vidigal Douro from Portugal. Brian told me he selected these because they run from a heavy and rich Bordeaux to a soft and crisp Verdicchio, an excellent stand-in for Chardonnay.
"All too frequently, people will find a bottle of something they really like, and they'll drink it exclusively for life. Think about how many wines you're missing out on for fear of never finding one you like as much?" Brian says. "You take some of the fear out of sampling new bottles when you provide wine at a lower price point because the customer can afford to dump the thing down the sink if she really hates it."