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Writers on Writers: In Vino

Reflections from the man who introduced America to the moschofilero

Taste: A Life in Wine
A memoir by Anthony Terlato
Agate Surrey; $26

As a major player in bringing prestige wines here from the Old World and the New, Anthony “Tony” Terlato has cast a large shadow across Chicago’s wine community for the better part of half a century. Now a senior statesman at 74, and with his two sons directing day-to-day operations of Terlato Wines International and the Terlato Wine Group, he has found time for recollection and reminiscence.

Against the backdrop of a nation slowly coming to recognize wine (“quality wine,” he interjects time and again), Terlato recounts assorted deals he made over the years to represent great wineries as importer, distributor, and—since the midnineties—owner. One of the most revealing vignettes has him dining alone and ordering a bottle of each of an Italian restaurant’s pinots grigios. There were 18. “Are you sure you want to drink all of these tonight?” the owner asks. “I’m not going to drink them,” replies Terlato, who was on the search for wines to import. “I just want to taste them.” (As an occasional guest in the Terlato kitchens, I’ve seen this same dedication applied to canned tomatoes and dried pasta. No wonder he titled his book Taste.)

THE REVIEWER

William Rice is the former wine and food columnist for the Chicago Tribune and former editor in chief of Food & Wine magazine.

The thread that binds Terlato’s diverse interests and passions is family. His parents and grandparents, his wife, his sons, and their families are in and out of his narrative with a regularity that seems parallel to real life. The Terlatos and the Paternos had known one another in New York before both families migrated to Chicago by the mid-1950s. The linkage became official when Tony married Josephine “JoJo” Paterno and went to work for her father at the Pacific Wine Company.

There has to be tension—conflict, even—while building a business. Terlato didn’t grow up with either. As an only child, he was addressed as “my prince” by a live-in grandmother and admits to being the center of attention at home. What the two families shared, he writes, was a “work ethic. . . . Improving their station in life was paramount.” Still, when the younger man urged his father-in-law to opt for quality in choosing wines to sell, Anthony Paterno was influenced instead by price. The lower the price in a very competitive market, the better. You know by now how their tug of war turned out, and it gives nothing away to note that Terlato is waving the flag of quality higher and harder than ever.

Illustration by Spike Press; photograph by Bill Hogan

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