Over the past 20 years, there have been several books written by award winning author Anatoli Levine. But there’s one book that Anatoli has yet to release. It’s a memoir of his own journey from a career in consumer product marketing to becoming an award-winning wine critic. Throughout his journey, Anatoli has continued to work with many of the companies that he initially represented as a marketing consultant. But in his new book, Anatoli will tell the “untold true story” of how wine industry executives and the French wine grape growers’ cartel colluded to keep producers out of the U.S. market and kept us drinking bad wine.
After recently spending time with an old friend of mine who I had not seen in several years, I was struck by his transformation. He had become a lot less the person I knew back in our early 20s. Looking at him now, I couldn’t help but wonder why. Was it because he was older? Had he changed his lifestyle to more closely resemble mine? Or, was it because he had had a wake-up call from his life?
“Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers” is a Q&A series profiling Wine Writers. We hope you’ll discover more about the wine writers you know, and learn about many others. The objective of this project is to understand and develop working relationships with journalists. They are after all, those that help tell our stories, review our wines and potentially provide media coverage. You can do this by learning their wine and writing backgrounds, story and personal interests, palate preferences, writing challenges and pet peeves. This is part of an ongoing series that will be featured monthly by Wine Industry Network.
Anatoli Levine is the author of the wine blog Talk-a-Vino. Anatoli has a long-standing passion for wine and had been writing about it since 2010. Anatoli has no favorite wine location, varietal, or beverage, and is constantly on the hunt for new wine experiences. More information is available at https://talk-a-vino.com/about-2/about/ and on Twitter at @talkavino.
How did you get into wine and writing about it?
The path to become a winemaker was not easy. Wine was largely unknown to me growing up in Belarus, with the exception of handmade sweet plum wine, which I encountered perhaps in eighth grade. After I graduated from university and began working, I took the next step into the wine industry. I took home a bottle of Tokaji from the Czech Republic (Tokaji was not a reserved term for Hungarian sweet wines back then), and it was fantastic. I took home another bottle of Tokaji from my next trip to Bulgaria, which tasted nothing like the first bottle, and this became my ultimate conundrum – how can two wines with the same name taste so differently? After arriving in the United States, there was a lot of White Zinfandel, followed by Australian creature brands and Frontera reds. When I see bottles of Chateau Latour and Mouton Rothschild for $70-$80 per bottle, I wonder why anybody would pay that much money when I can get a magnum of Frontera Cab for $8.99.
I began reading a lot more about wine — books, periodicals, anything I could get my hands on. I heard about Bordeaux’s grandeur via literature, and then I had my next surprise. In Bordeaux, the year 2000 was dubbed the “Year of the Century” by every wine publication. I couldn’t figure out what I was missing when I drank my first 2000 Bordeaux Superior, which I bought for $5.99 at a small grocery in New Jersey. How come this wine, from such a wonderful vintage, feels like I’m chewing on harsh tree bark?
These little failures didn’t discourage me, particularly with my doctor’s support, who told me after my physical that I could either take medications or start drinking a glass of water every day to lower my cholesterol – you can guess which option I picked. Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World wine school was a huge help in figuring out what excellent wines should taste like, and wine became a major, serious interest for me. Because I could now bore someone to death with a wine discussion, a close buddy (and social media specialist) advised me to establish a blog in 2008. The Talk-a-Vino blog was launched two years later, and the rest is history.
What are your main narrative focuses?
There aren’t many. The first is enthusiasm. I really think that the greatest wine is the result of obsession, and it is this that I seek for. Good wine evokes emotion, allowing the winemaker’s passion to shine through.
The enjoyment of wine comes in second. The hard effort that goes into producing a fine wine should always be recognized, regardless of where it was made.
What are your main palate inclinations?
Balance. Perhaps harmony is a better term, but balance is unquestionably the most important aspect of wine pleasure. Aside from that, I have no taste for white, red, Rosé, or dessert wines from anyplace in the globe.
What haven’t you accomplished that you’d want to?
What should I do first? I’m not a skier, a swimmer, or a cyclist… I attempted but failed to learn to play the guitar. Do you want me to go on?
What would you want your readers to take away from your wine writing?
Wine has a mystical atmosphere around it. Furthermore, it is often assumed that in order to appreciate wine, you must know a lot about it. While all of this is true, wine is binary – you either enjoy it or you don’t. I want people to have faith in their taste buds. Scores from critics and suggestions from friends are wonderful, but the wine must pass muster with your personal taste. It’s pointless to drink wine if it doesn’t make you happy.
What is your favorite tale that you’ve written? Please include a link to your website.
Picking a favorite after 11 years of blogging is difficult. Let’s have a look at a few:
I also like the series I collaborated on with Carl Giavanti:
What would you be doing if you weren’t writing about wine for a living?
I don’t make a career writing about wine. I work at a high-tech business in my non-wine life.
The Writing Methodology
Can you explain how you go about writing about wine?
This should be a simple question, but I’m having trouble answering it. I like working in continuous series, especially when the tales are linked in some way, at least conceptually. It works sometimes, but not always. Aside from the need to organize the tales into logical, linked clusters, each post requires its own inspiration, which is ideal when it comes spontaneously – I’m not very good at pushing myself to write discipline. I usually try to include a beginning in my tales, preferably one that is unrelated to the topic of the article – once the opening is completed to my satisfaction, the remainder of the narrative will flow in. Can we call this “a strategy”? You make the decision…
What are you currently working on? For your own site, or for which other outlets/publications do you plan to use it?
I’m just working on my blog, and I’m months behind on many of the articles that needed to be published months ago… I suppose I’m fortunate that my writing isn’t my main source of income…
If you write wine reviews, explain how you taste the wines. What happens to all the wine that’s been left over?
The majority of the wines are tasted blind. I typically make an initial evaluation of the wine, but I also like to watch how it develops over time, so the tasting process may take a few days – and the tasting notes will reflect this.
I try to find basic descriptions that people can refer to in my tasting notes, but the goal is to convey my feelings of the wine, so if I have an impression of the wet dog, for example, it will be represented in the notes.
I’m always glad to provide samples with friends and family if it’s possible. Otherwise, since I don’t have to sample a huge quantity of wine, all of the good wines will be gone in a matter of days.
How often do you write paid and assigned articles (not for your blog)? How often do you post to your blog?
Paid and assigned articles are an uncommon (extremely rare) sight in this town.
In terms of writing, I usually publish one article each week on my blog, which is far from enough, therefore my goal is to publish two posts per week.
What advice would you provide to vineyards while dealing with journalists?
Prepare your tale and make it interesting. Share your enthusiasm – it will make it much simpler for me to spread the word about your tale.
What are the benefits of dealing with winery publicists directly?
A dedicated point of contact at a winery is someone I can call when I need information. That makes things a lot easier.
Working on vineyard tales and/or wine reviews irritates you the most.
First and foremost, there isn’t a narrative. When I’m working on an article, the first page I search for on the winery’s website is “about us,” regardless of how it’s referred to or presented. No matter how wonderful the wines are, if I can’t discover the narrative – why this vineyard exists – it makes my work extremely tough.
Information is lacking. I like to explain the narrative first, rather than simply listing a lot of wine tasting notes. However, when a winery’s website just states, “Click here to buy our wines,” it’s difficult to construct a narrative only based on the shopping page. That, plus the lack of a comprehensive description of the wine, which is always a problem.
Which wine writers or reviewers would you like to be on a competition panel with?
I’m not sure I have a choice, although I think sharing a panel with WineWankers might be amusing.
Which wine personality (alive or deceased) would you most want to meet and taste with?
There are many legends in the wine world – André Tchelistcheff, Aubert de Villaine, Christian Moueix, Peter Gago…
Time to Relax
How do you spend your days off if you have them?
It depends on the purpose of the day. It might be as simple as doing some gardening or housework, going on a family vacation, taking a stroll in the park, or visiting a museum — you name it.
What’s the most memorable wine or wine-tasting experience you’ve ever had?
It’s a difficult question. There are far too many of them. I’ll never be able to choose “the one” – whenever I’m creating a new account and need to choose a secret question/answer combination, I constantly chuckle at the idea of using my favorite movie or favorite actor – no way.
I’ll give you a few examples. One was a tasting of Rioja wines during a seminar at PJ Wine in New York in 2008, when the selection featured Rioja wines dating back to 1964 – this was my personal introduction to the wonderful world of Rioja.
1996 Tasting In 2003, I took Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World wine school class and had La Ragose Amarone, which was a surprise for me because of the contrast between the dried fruit-laden aroma and the dry, herbaceous, strong body. That resulted in my everlasting love for Amarone, which seems to be the curse more frequently than not…
Imperial Rioja from 1947, purchased straight from the vineyard and enjoyed with a group of friends…
I drank the 1999 Soldera Brunello last year (2020) and it was a genuine vino di meditazione…
I could go on and on…
What do you do if you have a wine hangover?
The easiest way to prevent a hangover is to avoid it altogether. Really. Just be aware of what you’re drinking and avoid drinking beer after wine… But then I recall that at the Court of Master Sommeliers’ introduction session, one of the MSs remarked that Fernet Branca is his hangover remedy – something I usually have on hand just in case…
Do you have a favorite match of wine and food? What is your favorite recipe or pairing?
While I understand that wine and food are supposed to go together, I seldom follow rules, so I don’t have much to contribute here – well, maybe one. Bistecca alla Fiorentina (a porterhouse cut from Pat LaFrieda) coupled with Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino was one of the most successful and therefore unforgettable food and wine pairings – the wine and meat were simply singing together.
More tales in the “Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers” series may be found here.
Carl Giavanti, Carl Giavanti Consulting, provides expert editorial assistance.
CARL GIAVANTI is a winery publicist with a background in direct-to-consumer marketing. He is in his 12th year as a winemaking consultant. Carl has over 25 years of experience in company marketing and public relations, first in technology, digital marketing, and project management, and now as a vineyard media relations consultant. Napa Valley, Willamette Valley, Walla Walla, Columbia Valley, and the Columbia Gorge are all places where clients are or have been. (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com/Media)
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