Tanya Mann was born in Russia and after a decade living in London, she has returned to run a few wine projects, details of which she shares with Amanda Barnes in this interview. She also talks about her first taste of fine wine and how the Russian wine market is changing. Tanya is a Member of the Circle of Wine Writers and currently serving on the Committee.
Tell us about where you grew up and your first experiences of wine.
I was born in Kazan in Russia, an interesting region at the junction of the Christian and Muslim religions. There is a whole different style of gastronomy here — for example, Cornish pasties in Wales look like our Tatar pastries.
There’s also another unusual feature of this region in that you need a secondary alcohol certification to sell wine here – national and also a secondary local one, which can take up to 40 days to obtain.
My first job in the drinks business was in 2000 at a wine agency, where LVMH was part of the portfolio, I was an events manager. I remember once being told there was to be a Hennessy event and tasting for officials with 200 guests coming. I thought I would be pro-active and immediately poured 200 cognac glasses. The government meeting was delayed and only two guests finally came to the event – it was a good lesson…
It wasn’t until 2005 that I had my first experience with fine wine: an A F Gros Richebourg.
I was working in spirits with Pernod Ricard, Diageo and Bacardi-Martini (I was very lucky in this wine agency because we had all top brands). I later managed to become president of the barman association and later commercial director of an alcohol company in Kazan. My career growth was quite rapid, although I had absolutely no knowledge of wine.
And since I love structure, it was important to understand the topic, I started to study wine. I graduated with the WSET Diploma which I studied in London, and I completed sommelier school in Italy.
You are experienced in presenting wines to the Russian market, and are currently based there working as a managing director of wine bars, restaurants and wine shops. What is the wine scene like in Russia?
Moscow is a very progressive market. In London, the choice of wines is better, as it is easier to introduce a lot of small importers. In Moscow, large importers manage the market.
In the old days, the markup on wine was huge in the on-trade, up to 400% but now it is more democratic. Rental prices in the city centre are sometimes more than 25% of total business budget, so this is an expensive pleasure.
With regards to the off-trade in Russia, the top ten global companies like Gallo and so on are not popular and are not known, since alcohol advertising is prohibited. So big entry-level brands don’t control market. The popularization of wines is in fact carried out by alcohol companies such as Simple, for example, which has a wine school too. Simple also has its own wine magazine Simple Wine News with great staff journalists, not freelancers, and Simple own an e-commerce department and develop digital sales, which employs a team of more than 20 people, while there are more than 1,800 employees in the Simple Corporation in total.
What do you see as key trends at the moment in the Russian wine market?
Surprisingly, the third class of the alcohol sales sector has appeared in Russia. I call it ‘urbanarium’.
Over the past year, food malls have been popping up like mushrooms after the rain. They are sort of like Selfridges but instead of clothes, they are hubs of restaurants or other food concepts. You can find 70 food concepts under one roof, and wine shops are included. Customers can buy different foods and drink wine within the market itself, so it’s on-trade consumption but you are buying wine for the retail price. The wine shelves are a window display, like a visual wine list. So it’s totally different SKU to normal wine shops.
This is the largest trend in Russia. At one of these malls, I run the Wine Depo wine shop and bar and see Generation Z, and the information needs to be displayed in a more fun way. Much quicker and easier to understand.
Do you have a favourite wine region, or area of expertise, and why?
I love classics, and while I also enjoy experimenting with rare varieties, I always return to sparkling and still versions of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I would recommend Jura wines too, and I also love the seasoned Sangiovese. I tried 2012 yesterday. It was magical… juicy and fresh.
I think the Montecucco region and the winemaker Salustri are undeservedly under the radar. And the wine is several times cheaper than Brunello.
What’s coming up in 2020 for Tanya Mann?
My hardest challenge today is studying to become a Master of Wine, which I have been studying for three years. Other work and projects are very good, and I have started with another challenge of advising the Russian winery Sikory, which for the first time in the history of Russia finally got 90 points from Wine Advocate.
Another project that I manage in Moscow is the fine dining restaurant Grand Cru by Adrian Quetglas. We have 2 stars in Wine Spectator. There are no Michelin-starred restaurants in Russia yet, and, of course, the task is to get the first Michelin star in Russia next year. Our chef Adrian has already received a star in Mallorca, they say the critic liked the dish he developed in Russia, inspired by Russian local products.
The Russians are waiting for the abolition of the visa regime and Russians still miss the atmosphere of the World Cup when Moscow was teeming with people and there were many guests in the capital.
And very soon my own wine will be ready. Of course from Russian terroir.