Pavel Bogdanov
Before getting into everything he's done, Pavel tells what's been done for him, by the many teachers and guides he's been fortunate enough to have in his life

Text by Grace Watson

Praktika is a semi-underground wine bar beneath the Lenkom theater on Malaya Dmitrovka. Pavel offers a greeting that's as warm and inviting as his bar is. We take a seat in the cozy back room, dimly lit and brick-walled. Shelves full of bottles show off a proud liquor selection.

Before getting into everything he's done, Pavel tells what's been done for him, by the many teachers and guides he's been fortunate enough to have in his life
Pavel Bogdanov: I've been very lucky with teachers in my life -- in mathematics, in psychology, in wine, in the restaurant business. But I have been totally unlucky with teachers of tennis: I've only found one really good tennis teacher. But that's my hobby, not my profession. Wine, of course, is my profession, my hobby, and my life. .
That's wonderful, that you can make a profession out of something that you love.

Pavel Bogdanov: Yes, that's happiness. That's a big part of life.

Photo by Marie & Slava Vasilev
So tell us about the beginning. How did you get into this hobby and profession?

Pavel Bogdanov: In 1999, I was working as a barman while I was in university in Moscow. I worked at a restaurant called Crabhouse; they were one of the first places serving crab in Moscow. It was new to the market -- now, crabs are everywhere. Ten years ago, this wave started in the north of Europe, and now they're everywhere in Moscow. With sushi, too. So, at this time, when there was this sushi boom, that's when my restaurant experience began. Back then, it was very expensive -- a plate of sushi that now costs 500 rubles cost $100 back then. Not everybody could eat it. But I was happy, because the bar I worked at was near the sushi bar, and I got to learn from the sushi chef and explore that.

We'd have bottles of wine in the fridge, and the sommelier would ask me to bring him a bottle -- that Sancerre or that Chablis or that Premier Cru. And I'd bring him the bottle he needed, but I kept finding myself wondering what the difference could be between all these wines. By then, I already had some experience working in big Moscow casinos and restaurants, which gave me experience with all kinds of hard liquors. I would always try everything we had available on the market. But, about wine, I didn't understand anything. That was a revelation for me.

So I asked the sommelier to suggest a wine school for me. He did, and I started studying there under some great teachers. But most importantly, I'd developed a feeling for wine, and, ever since, there could be no other way. I started to explore and study more, and I realized that it would be an endless process. The school, and the teachers there, inspired a truly special feeling about wine.

Pavel Bogdanov: Then I began working as a Deputy Sommelier in Moscow restaurants. When my daughter was born, I started working in a Russian wine company, even organizing wine tours with them to different regions. I was proud to explore winemaking in a deeper way.

In 2005, I was invited to work as a supplier in a big hotel project, including the hotel restaurant and bar. This was my first step in the hospitality business. I was invited to join another big hotel in 2007, back when there were still casinos, like in that hotel. I was the Chief Sommelier of this hotel chain, which was expanding into different cities too. There were crises: casinos were banned in 2012, and in 2014, all tobacco was banned.

At the beginning of 2015, there was the big economic crisis, and I stopped working so much with these big hotels. People stopped drinking such expensive wines and started searching for alternatives. I was invited by a liquor production company in St. Petersburg to help them branch out into the wine business, to choose a brand sommelier and help them move into restaurants.
Photo by Praktika by Darvin
So how did Praktika come into the picture?

Pavel: Later, I was a Brand Sommelier for a big company, and I was invited to work for them as a Wine Director. That involved opening a few bars and taking care of the wine assortment there. Having worked at such big companies, I was able to use the skills I learned in that field, like organizing the product details and pricing, when forming the wine menu here at Praktika.

How do you choose which wines to feature on the wine menu? Do you base your choice on market demand, on imagining what will be popular and suit the menu, or on your own experiments and your desire to show people different types of wine?

Pavel: First of all, it depends on the type of restaurant. For wine bars, there need to be different categories of wine, like we have here at Praktika. At Praktika, we have a bottle of Prosecco for 750 rubles. So after work, for example, you can come to the restaurant and buy a bottle for the equivalent of 10 euro. So we have five different price categories and three different type categories of wine. Every week, I analyze our sales and what people like, and my mission is to provide good value in every category of wine. I know the market, and I know what other restaurants charge for the same bottles of wine that we sell for lower prices. In that way, Praktika works like a vinoteca or a wine shop -- we have a capacity of 170 people, but some people buy bottles from us just to take home. This is my mission, that people can try the wines and be impressed.
Are more people in Russia drinking wine now than in the past?

Pavel: In Russia, yes, more and more, but wine consumption now may be growing at a slower rate now than it was before the crisis. And people's individual consumption is also growing slower. For example, before the crisis, wine drinkers would work their way up from one category of wine to the next, would be willing to spend more and more as their tastes grew with experience. Now, people have greater limitations -- they aren't growing in that way, like they were before. They stop at a certain category without growing.

Has your focus always been on the wines of Europe, or have you also studied Russian wine producers and regions?

Pavel: Well, first of all, I unfortunately haven't been to Georgia. Of course, I promise I'll go one day and check for myself and see the famous vineyards, but I think it's still too soon to speak about Georgian wines. Georgia has a deeper story than anyone else -- only Greece can compare. But even Greece has lost some of its traditions, whereas Georgia has retained them. This is like the mystique of a place. That's what I like to call it. Other than the old way of production and wines that aren't on the market, though, the newer vineyards are only five or so years old. As for Crimea and Krasnodar, wine production is growing. Lots of talented winemakers in both big and small vineyards. Even with the same terroir, the wines from different producers vary greatly, depending on the technique and talent of the winemaker.

In Crimea, there are four different terroirs based on the four rivers in the region. Near the sea, in the valley, a very interesting terroir is created, making rich wines that can't come from flat land. Two particular grapes are Kakur - white - and Krasnostop - red. These local grapes are authentic, local Russian grapes. There should be no monopolies in wine, because then the market is only commercial producers and there's no space for small producers like these.

As for other regions, Austria is one of my favorite countries to explore, both for travel, and for wine. Austria has a great wine culture, as does the former Yugoslavia. You can find a lot of great reds there.

A sommelier is someone who works with wine, not tea or beer or anything else. But, as a sommelier, I should know everything about all beverages. That's what I do, and I have passion for it. For example, I wouldn't call myself a water sommelier, but I'm currently an ambassador of Selters water. It's a historical water from Frankfurt, and I actually find it very gastronomic and very useful for the market. It's good for health, it pairs well with food, and those who don't drink alcohol can drink this water and really enjoy it.

Some wines kill your receptors, others refresh them. And my position on wine-food pairings, or wine-cigar pairings -- well, I'm conservative about some things, like varietals and terroirs -- but not about pairings. I love pairing a sparkling wine with a cigar, or even just a sparkling mineral water with a cigar. When you have whisky or rum with a cigar, it may be the perfect glass of liquor, but the pair will be competing. They can detract from each other. A sparkling, mineral-heavy drink places focus on the cigar and opens it up. But cigar smoke also dulls your receptors, and it's good to refresh them again, like with a sparkling wine.
We all know about food pairing, but I rarely, if ever, hear about pairing wine with something you smoke. Was this something someone taught you, or did you come up with it on your own?

Pavel: Pairing with wine, only by myself. That's what I show my customers in my cigar clubs. We even create new pairs together. I want to show non-conservative techniques, to expand the possibilities and crush the old stereotypes.

So when did you first get into cigars? Did your interest in cigars come along with your interest in wine, or did it come separately?

Pavel: I was always interested in it. But maybe it really started the first time I went to Cuba, in 2007. After that, just like after the wine school, my mind was transformed. I started exploring and discovering cigars, comparing them and eventually making a cigar club. In 2008 or '9, I started organizing the first cigar club in Moscow. By the way, an interesting point occurred to me: the cigar community is tighter than the wine one. It's surprising, because wine connects people in such a way, you'd think they'd be a tight community. But maybe because so many people drink wine and have different experiences with wine, they can't quite consolidate together. But with cigars, everyone there has a shared passion. They all know why they're there and they respect each other in the club.

Do you have any tips for beginners in cigar smoking?

Pavel: Cigars aren't dangerous to your health, as long as you follow some basic guidelines. First, consider the atmosphere you're in: there should be air circulation. Second, the cigar should never get too hot. When it gets hot, that could cause concentrated smoke to enter your mouth. So warm, but not hot. The third thing is not to hurry. Cigars are a process and they require some time. They're not something to do every day in a rush. Finally, enjoy only in your mouth, not by inhaling into your lungs, and enjoy them with some food and without too much alcohol. Your first time, consider starting out with a guide who can show you through the process and teach you about the different tastes and characteristics of cigars.
Have you made any mistakes in your profession that have been interesting or that you've learned from?

Pavel: There was one time when we had this one particular wine, 600 bottles of it. Our suppliers didn't have any more in stock. I had thought 600 bottles was enough, but we went through it all in just three weeks. This actually happened with another wine, too -- a Riesling Trocken. We had it at a really affordable price, and when customers tried it, they couldn't stop. We sold out really fast, and the supplier can't predict things like that. Now, I think more carefully about this kind of thing, but it's hard to know in advance.

What other wine bars in Moscow do you respect, admire, or consider decent competition?

Pavel: I have a few, and most of them are my friends. There's Wine Bazaar -- Zheniya Kachalova is a friend of mine. There's also Wine and Dine, and Wine Religion bar, which I went to with my dog, who they even gave a little bowl. Of course, I also like Big Wine Freaks, and I love Simple Wine Bar, who we've had some events with
What do you think is the most important aspect of running a wine bar in the middle of a big capital city like Moscow?

Pavel: There are a few things, like location, employees, customers, and price. The employees should be enthusiastic and happy to be there. The prices should be appropriate, there should be a price vision that works. And the food, of course. Food is also so important, working together with the chef to make wine pairings.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Pavel: Trying the wines, getting imaginative about them, and showing them to the customers for the first time. My taste is pretty typical, but I like to explore, too. So I can imagine what wines will work for the people, and usually the customers approve.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to start out in the wine business?

Pavel: They should find a leader or teacher of some sort. They can go up to a sommelier in a restaurant, for example, and ask him or her questions, and learn from him or her. They can ask which points are worth paying attention to in wine, and then decide from there. Make some connections. When I work as a consultant, I ask if people use Vivino. Vivino is for wine lovers -- there are 32 million people like you on it. It's a group that you can participate in. Begin by finding a community of people like you.
Insider's tip:
When you're in the mood for something other than wine, Praktika also has a liquor and cocktail selection. Try out the canchanchara, Pavel's personal recommendation. It's a 17th century Trinidadian cocktail with a carefully balanced mixture of Brazilian rum, lime, and honey.
Meet the Boss at the
Cigar Room #1907
Praktika Bar Lenkom by Darvin