“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 Advisor.
Anatoli Levine is the writer behind the Talk-a-Vino wine blog. Anatoli had been in love with wine for more than 20 years, and writing about it since 2010. Anatoli doesn’t have a favorite region, grape or wine, and is always on the lookout for new wine experiences.
How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?
The road to wine was not straightforward. Growing up in Belarus, wine was mostly an unknown entity with the exception of the homemade sweet plum wine, which I discovered probably in 8th grade. The next step towards wine world was after I finished university and started working. I brought home a bottle of Tokaji from Czech Republic (in those days, Tokaji was not a reserved name for the Hungarian sweet wines), and that wine was absolutely delicious. From the next trip to Bulgaria, I brought home another bottle of Tokaji, which didn’t taste anything like the first bottle, and that became my ultimate puzzle – how can two wines which are called seemingly the same, taste so differently? Moving forward, after coming to the USA, there was a lot of White Zinfandel, then Australian creature labels and Frontera reds. Seeing Chateau Latour and Mouton Rothschild at $70-$80 per bottle beg the question – why would anyone spend so much money when I can have a magnum of Frontera Cab for $8.99?
I started reading a lot more about wine – books, magazines – everything I could find. By the way of reading, I learned about greatness of Bordeaux, and then I had my next surprise. 2000 was called the vintage of the century in Bordeaux by each and every wine information source. When I tasted my first 2000 Bordeaux Superior, acquired for $5.99 at the local supermarket in New Jersey, I couldn’t understand what am I missing – how come this wine, from such a great vintage, tastes like I’m chewing on a bitter tree bark?
These little setbacks didn’t deter me, especially considering my doctor’s encouragement who suggested after the physical that I can either get on pills or start drinking glass a day to deal with elevated cholesterol – you can guess what I’ve chosen. Kevin Zraly Windows on the World wine school was an amazing help discovering what good wines should taste like, and wine slowly but squarely became a big, serious passion. I now could bore someone to death with a wine conversation, so in 2008 a good friend of mine (and social media expert) said “you need to start a blog. A mere two years later, Talk-a-Vino blog started and the rest is history at this point.
What are your primary story interests?
There are few. First one is passion. I truly believe that the best wine is a product of the obsession, and this is what I always look for. Good wine solicits emotion; thus, the passion of winemaking finds a way to show itself.
Second would be wine appreciation. No matter in which place in the world the wine was produced, the hard work of making a good wine should always be appreciated.
What are your primary palate preferences?
Balance. Harmony might be even a better word, but for sure the balance is the most essential element of wine enjoyment. Other than that, I really don’t have a preference – white, red, Rosé, dessert – from anywhere in the world.
What haven’t you done, that you’d like to do?
Where do I start? I don’t ski, I don’t swim, I don’t ride bicycle… I tried to learn to play guitar, but I gave up. Shall I continue?
What is one thing you’d like your readers to learn from your writing about wine?
Wine is surrounded with an aura of mystery. Moreover, it is often suggested that you need to know a lot about wine in order to be able to enjoy it. While this all might be true, the wine is binary – you either like it or not. I want people to trust their palate. Critic scores and friends’ recommendations are great, but it is your own palate which has to approve the wine. Wine should give you pleasure, or there is no point in drinking it.
What’s the best story you have written? Please provide a link.
After 11 years of blogging, picking a favorite is far from easy. How about a few:
- Passion and Prosecco: https://talk-a-vino.com/2016/04/12/passion-and-prosecco/
- Study of Port: https://talk-a-vino.com/2013/05/14/study-of-port-finally-lets-talk-about-port/
I also really like the series I created with the help of Carl Giavanti:
- Passion and Pinot: https://talk-a-vino.com/?s=passion+and+pinot
If you weren’t writing about wine for a living, what would you be doing?
I actually don’t write about wine for living. In my non-wine life I work for a high tech company.
Can you describe your approach to wine writing?
This should be an easy question, but I’m having a hard time with it. I love to work in continuous series, when the stories are connected to one another, at least on the idea level. Sometimes it works, mostly it doesn’t. Outside of this desire to create logical, connected clusters of the stories, each post requires its own inspiration, which is best when it is spontaneous – I’m not very good at forcing writing discipline upon myself. I always strive to have an opening in the stories, best when it is not even directly connected to the subject of the post – once the opening is done to my liking, the rest of the story will flow in. Can we call this “an approach”? You be the judge…
What are you working on now? For your own site, or which other outlets/publications?
All I’m working on is for my blog, and I’m grossly behind on many of the posts which had to be written month and month ago… I guess I’m lucky that my writing is not the source of my income…
If you do wine reviews, describe your tasting process. What happens to all that extra wine?
I taste most of the wines non-blind. I usually take the initial assessment of the wine, but I also like to see how the wine evolves, so the tasting process might take a few days – and this will be often reflected in the tasting notes.
As part of my tasting notes, I try looking for the simple descriptors which people can refer to – but in any case, the idea is to share my impressions of the wine, so if I will have an impression of the wet dog, for example, it will be reflected in the notes.
If I can share samples with friends and family, I’m always happy to do so. Otherwise, as I don’t have to taste a humongous amount of wine, all the decent wines will be finished over the course of a few days.
How often do you write assigned and paid articles (not your blog)? How often do you blog?
Assigned and paid articles are a rare (very rare) bird here.
In terms of writing, I’m typically at about a post a week in my blog, even though this is definitely not enough, so my target is to be on two posts per week.
What are your recommendations to wineries when interacting with journalists?
Have your story together, and make it exciting. Share your passion – makes it much easier for me to make your story better known.
What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?
Winery publicist is a dedicated point of contact – someone to reach out to when I need information. That really simplifies the process.
What frustrates you most about working on winery stories and/or wine reviews?
First and foremost – absence of the story. When I work on the post, “about us” is the first page I’m looking for on the winery’s web site – no matter how it is exactly called or presented. If I can’t find the story – why this winery exists – makes my job very difficult, no matter how amazing the wines are.
Absence of information. I don’t like just putting a bunch of wine tasting notes out there – I prefer to tell the story first. But when the winery website only says “click here to shop our wines”, it is impossible to create a story just from the shopping page. That and the technical notes – absence of the detailed description of the wine is always a challenge.
Which wine reviewers/critics would you most like to be on a competition panel with?
Not sure I have a preference, but I think it would be fun to share a panel with WineWankers ☺
Which wine personalities would you most like to meet and taste with (living or dead)?
If you are into wine, there is no shortage of legends – André Tchelistcheff, Aubert de Villaine, Christian Moueix, Peter Gago…
If you take days off, how do you spend them?
It depends what the day is for. It can be just some work in the garden or on the house, trip with the family, walk in the park, visiting museum – you name it.
What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?
Tough question. There are way too many. I can never pick “the one” – when I’m setting up some random account and need to choose some secret question/answer combination, I’m always laughing at the suggestion to choose my favorite movie or favorite actor for such a purpose – absolutely no way.
I can mention a few. One was a tasting of Rioja wines at the seminar at PJ Wine store in New York, I believe in 2008, when the selection included Rioja wines going all the way back to 1964 – this was my personal discovery of the amazing world of Rioja.
Tasting 1996 La Ragose Amarone during Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World wine school class in 2003 – the wine was a revelation for me in its contrast between dried fruit laden nose and dry, herbaceous, powerful body. That created my eternal love for Amarone, which more often than not appears to be the curse…
1947 Imperial Rioja, acquired directly from the winery and shared with a group of friends…
1999 Soldera Brunello which I tasted last year (2020) – a true vino di meditazione…
I can go on and on and on…
What’s your cure for a wine hangover?
The best cure for hangover is to avoid it. Really. Just be cognizant of what you drink, and don’t drink beer after wine… But then I remember that during Court of Master Sommeliers intro class, one of the MSs mentioned that his hangover cure is Fernet Branca – I always strive to have that available just in case…
Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing? Favorite recipe/pairing?
While I know that wine and food are meant to be together, I practically never follow any rules, so I don’t have much to offer here – well, maybe I can give you one. One of the most successful and thus memorable food and wine pairings was Bistecca alla Fiorentina (a porterhouse cut from Pat LaFrieda) paired with Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino – the wine and meat were just singing together.
Read more stories in the series “Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers.”
CARL GIAVANTI is a Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s celebrating his 12th year of winery consulting. Carl has been involved in business marketing and public relations for over 25 years; originally in technology, digital marketing and project management, and now as a winery media relations consultant. Clients are or have been in Napa Valley, Willamette Valley, Walla Walla, Columbia Valley and the Columbia Gorge. (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.