I am always surprised when someone mentions that they consider it an ordeal - deer in the headlights - to select a wine from the myriad bottles facing them on the shelves. I’m so immersed in wine and have studied it for so long that I sometimes forget some people are just starting out with their wine exploration and are simply intimidated by the overwhelming amount of options. There is also, and maybe more to the point, the fact that many folks have no idea what they are looking at. It's like all the words on the bottle are in a different language (often they are) and seems like gobbledygook.
There are many ways to choose a bottle of wine that you haven’t yet tasted. Some wine shoppers like to trust critics and scores, others use friend's recommendations, others have developed a good relationship with a small wine shop and work with the buyer or a staff member that has a good sense of their palette. There are other ways of course. Personally, when faced with choosing a wine from a group of unknowns, I pick up the bottle, turn it around, and see who the importer is. I've applied this little trick for 20+ years and have been greatly rewarded.
Importers come in all shapes and sizes. Some famous names include Lynch, Rosenthal, Dressner, Weygandt, and Wasserman, to name a few. There are also local, Massachusetts, importers like Oz, Ideal, Olmstead, and Vineyard Road whose names appear on the back label of some great wines. Sadly, some importers don’t exactly have a clear identity, an ethic that guides their selections. It's akin to restaurants who offer a dozen different cuisines (Italian to Thai?); the best you can expect is mediocre. These importers are trying to fill every category at any cost and let slide a critical means of selection. Other importers, like some of those previously mentioned have intention, an underlying belief of what wine is or what it should be, and this, more or less, comes through in their portfolio.