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With his skate board and baggy pants, Toni Askitis has risen to become one of the best-known sommeliers in Germany. His tastings are not only aimed at wine nerds, but also skaters and hip-hoppers. Askitis' unconventional style is well received by conservative companies of all people. He talked to Matthias Stelzig about rookies, the Mosel and his origins.

"Just hit it out of the park!" That's how a tasting starts for Toni Askitis. You could say a lot about the Palatinate Riesling in the glass: very mineral, fine fruit acidity, stone fruits, graphite and a lot more that you find in a wine like this. But Toni is interested in the opinion of newcomers, takes them seriously. At the same time, he radiates notoriously good humour. You can tell he's happy about every good glass, every comment and every question. He is the type in whose presence almost everyone feels at ease.

With this style, he has set himself far apart from the stiff wine tastings with compulsory ties. And thus arouses interest in wine in people who might never have tried it elsewhere. His sentences usually start with "Hey, bro" and end with "hip-hop". Toni is a skater, hip-hopper and sommelier - all at the same time in his wine courses. He divides wine drinkers into hard users, wine enthusiasts and rookies.

Rookies are unknown, often very good musicians in hip-hop who upload their tracks for free on the net. His rookies are newcomers to the wine world, whom he reaches mainly on Instagram. "Everyone is a talent if you explain complicated topics to them simply," says Toni. Instead of lecturing about electron migration and acetobacter, he explains, "Just imagine a cut apple. That turns brown, too. That's oxidation." That much info is enough for now.

'How many glasses do you need?' 'What is Primitivo good for?' 'What do you eat with champagne?' The questions are actually always the same, but often fall by the wayside with professionals because they have known the answers for so long. Toni has realised that you have to answer them to the point: Two. Nothing. Gyros.

After years of work, he has developed a broad impact beyond the introductory questions. He talks about litre wine ("the distiller") as well as Burgundy tastings ("they exist, the insider tips, the real deal"), advises the Düsseldorf trade fair company as well as an Indian snack bar.

"I pull off my style"

With his Hawaiian shirt and shorts, he no longer looks like a hardcore hip-hopper. Even the delicate gold chain hardly passes for bling-bling anymore. Toni is 43, has three children. "But people expect that from me," he says. Sometimes he is almost surprised himself. "Then I stand in front of two dozen guys in suits to whom I present my projects and ask: 'Are we all ok per du?' And they clap then."

Industry decision-makers love the business model of the nice guy next door who talks the talk. Toni's schedule is full, his client list reads more like a Who's Who of the conservative German wine world: Deutsches Weininstitut, VDP, Zwiesel, Gerolsteiner and the ProWein trade fair. Many of these companies have realised that they have to go new ways to win new - younger - customers who otherwise reach for craft beer, cold brew or mixed drinks with increasingly fancy ingredients.

Düsseldorf Trade Fair/ProWein

How he became so successful? "I'm a child of gastronomy." That's how his story begins. Toni's parents had a Greek restaurant, "but without gyros and fishing nets." The restaurant was located in Düsseldorf's upper middle-class zoo district, where there was no room for fast food. But the wine list had 120 items. And Toni had to help out. "That's how it is in guest worker families," says Toni. "We have a big event tomorrow, can you come? my mother asked. I have an exam at the university the day after. 'That's alright, my boy. Four o'clock then?"

Toni did an apprenticeship as a merchant in wholesale and foreign trade, which ended in the so-called system gastronomy. "One year in a steakhouse chain. That was enough." With studies and a semester abroad in Hawaii, he set the course for his career. But the spark was still ignited in the family circle: "My father dragged me along to ProWein in 2001. "Strolling around, tasting wines from countless countries, being amazed. That's when it became clear to me: I want to be there." Today, the symbol of the German vineyard Wehlener Sonnenuhr is tattooed on his forearm.

500 wines and hip-hop in the background

Next came his own restaurant, D'Vine. In the then not so trendy Unterbilk district of Düsseldorf, he put 500 wines on the menu and had a wall designed by a graffiti artist. Hip-hop instrumentals played in the background. "Most people didn't even notice." The place was one of the hippest restaurants in town when Toni sold it. He did more tastings, more Instagram, more seminars. He already had the hashtag #asktoni on the menu at D'Vine. Now it became his logo. It was perfect for him because it sounds like FragMutti, NetDoktor or Wikipedia. Click on it once and you know the answer.

And he delivers the right action. You can watch him in his videos tasting wine at 200 kilometres per hour on the motorway. And then, of all things, a wine from Württemberg, which comes from a region that stands for thoughtfulness and cosiness. In another clip, he knocks over a bottle of Charles Heidsieck champagne by driving past it at the right angle with his skate board. In slow motion, this makes an enormous impression. In the next video at the latest, in which he talks with German hip-hop legend Moses Pelham for half an hour only about wine, he reaches people who would otherwise hardly have been interested.

He advises his followers to "try everything". Even if he himself sometimes draws sharp lines: New World doesn't have to be. He doesn't like Pinot Gris, and certainly not Rosé. But sweet Mosel with goose and orange wine with a pulled pork burger. In the end, his work is an instruction manual for wine Germany, especially for Mosel Rieslings.

The best wine is a playlist

The steep slopes, feinherb, Auslese and slate minerality - that is his world. Especially the sweet wines with their traditional stuffy image would not have been expected in it. But when Toni goes on air, he gets it across. His Live.tastings, which others struggle with, are well booked. The smallest unit is two bottles of wine, which you can order for 25 euros. The accompanying Instagram session, usually with the winemaker present, is free of charge. Almost everyone can afford that. "In five years," he is convinced, "I will be fully digital. Toni's first great love, hip-hop, has little to do with wine for now. It is the music for all of life's questions: Hip-hop can deal with the problems of growing up as a migrant child, shout out political grievances, make a perfect declaration of love or simply tell the world that you are the greatest. Access is barrier-free. You don't need a manager or a music school. This is how many musicians have managed to become artists whose story you might otherwise never have heard. And many say they wouldn't have become what they are without hip-hop. That also fits Toni's rookies quite well. They don't have to use affected wine language with him. "Just belt it out." The expertise will come. Just as a good piece of music conveys more than a lyric punctuated with sound collage, the complex aromas of a good wine also merge into an interplay in which you can sink.

As a wine description, Toni sometimes simply performs a dance. For him, there is no best wine either. Only "a current playlist". That is his answer to perhaps the most annoying question from rookies and local journalists. Even more so are the sharp-tongued hip-hop lyrics with which he gets to the heart of things. When it comes to champagne, he's annoyed by the "rum boasting of the nouveau riche". Does expensive always equal better? "Just bang away." Acid? "What's the damn problem? Every Coke has more." And organic? "Like the 'Fans Only' section in Bravo back in the day." Well said, Toni.

Toni's hashtags:

  • #MusikimGlas
  • #FullThrottleToni
  • #SmallMicroBigGrowths

Book Tip:

Toni Askitis has written a book from the most frequently asked questions he has received on his channels. On a double-page spread, he explains terroir and minerality, for example. But his fans don't ask for technical terms like brettanomyces, tertiary aromas or carbonic acid fermentation. They want to know: What is yeast? What is acid? What is feinherb? His answers are precise, but understandable for everyone.

Toni Askitis Wine is uncomplicated Edition Michael Fischer 18,00 Euro https://asktoni.de

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