This month’s “Barullo” Wines of Argentina tasting sees six semi-finalists from 2016’s Best Sommelier of the Year competition share their insights on the huge changes taking place in Argentine wine. In the first of a series of profiles we talk to leading Latvian sommelier, Raimonds Tomsons of Vincents in Riga, about his life as a sommelier and Argentine wine in particular
How Argentina is helping to bring new challenging wines to Latvian consumers and diners, says Riga’s Raimonds Tomsons.
How did you start as a sommelier?
I actually had no plan to be a sommelier when I was growing up in Riga. In fact I wanted to be a translator, but I did not have the right grades. So instead I went to a professional school to learn about how to be a bar tender and waiter. From there I got my job at the Vincent in Riga and I have been there for the last 17 years.
How did you move from being a waiter to a sommelier?
I gradually progressed through the restaurant from waiter to head waiter to junior sommelier and now for the last 10 years I have been the sommelier here in charge of the wine list, doing tastings and helping to educate the staff and managing the cellar.
How have you improved your knowledge of wine?
It has been a combination of preparing for and taking part in sommelier competitions and also doing the formal training through the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. I finished my diploma last spring.
You took part in the Best Sommelier of the Year competition in Mendoza earlier in the year. What was that like?
It was actually my second time as I also competed in the finals in Chile in 2010. But it was still a huge experience for me and I took it is much more seriously this time. It is like the Olympics for sommeliers. It had long been a target for myself to get to the world finals. But you have to plan for it and train like you were competing in a major sports event.
How do you mean?
You need to be training every day. You have to develop your own style, your own system for doing things. When you compete in these competitions it is all about completing different tasks in a set time limit. It is very strict and you have to train intensely. It really is a case of sacrificing your social time. It is one thing having the wine knowledge, it is another being handle to nerves and cope under pressure.
The event took place in Argentina and you had the chance to discover more of its wines when you were there. What was your perception of Argentine wine before the finals?
I had a read a lot about it and how important obviously Malbec and Torrontes is to Argentine wine. But I was really surprised by the standard, particularly in the diversity and difference in the Malbec wines. There is not just one style from Mendoza. There are so many different types of Malbec from all the different sub regions of the Uco Valley, or Rio Negro in Patagonia. It was a big revelation for me. It was also the same with Torrontes and the big differences there and with the sparkling wines.
What else did you discover outside of Malbec and Torrontes?
It was also interesting to see the different styles of grape varieties from regions like San Juan and La Rioja. The Syrahs, the Bonardas, the Bordeaux blends and the Cabernet Francs. What was clear was that the level of winemaking was to a very high standard and very consistent.
Do you have many wines from Argentina on sale in Latvia?
We have seen in the past a lot of the easy drinking, fruity Malbecs. Most of our distributors have one or two wines from Argentina. But I think there is an opportunity to show the more premium and higher altitude styles of Malbec and the wines from all the different regions of the country. But clearly we cannot have too many on our list.
Do you sell a lot of New World wine at Vincents?
Yes. They are very popular. But mostly it is Argentina, Chile, Australia and New Zealand and then South Africa and California below them. Chile is becoming more popular as well.
And are the price points good for Latvia?
We can normally sell Argentina at around £40 to £50 a bottle. But it would be a lot harder at say £80 or £90. You would really have to explain and justify why a Malbec is worth £80 compared to a name from Bordeaux for the same price.
Which wines from Argentina do you think are the most cutting edge?
Well as I have said the different styles of Malbec. Its high altitude wines. Then there are the high quality Bordeaux blends. Torrontes from the south and Patagonia. The sparkling wines are also very interesting as are Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Syrah. But most of all it is the truly authentic, diverse wines that come through. All of show how much Argentina is changing.
Why are you taking part in the Barullo cutting edge Wines of Argentina tasting?
It will be great to be see some of the wines I saw in Mendoza in London. It will also be great to meet up with the other sommeliers from the competition so that we can share our experiences and our emotions of what we saw and experienced in Argentina. After all we are ultimately selling emotions as well as wine. It is not just about knowledge. The winemaker relies on us to share that emotion with our customers. That is the key.
It will also be great to meet the personalities and the key figures in the most important on-trade market in the world. London.
What do you see as the future for your own career?
I am very happy in Latvia. It is a small market but it is dynamic and passionate and has demanding customers. So I am looking forward to playing my part in helping to develop it and educate both ourselves and our customers about wine. So whenever I get the chance to have an experience like coming to London to take part in this event then I have to take it.
- Tomsons will be taking part in a series of masterclasses and debates being held by six of the finalists in this year’s Best Sommelier of the Year competition at Wines of Argentina’s Barullo event on October 25 at JJ Studios in Hoxton, London. The event has been designed to inspire and help fellow sommeliers and wine buyers discover the cutting edge wines and food coming out of Argentina. Barullo’s trade sessions take place on October 25 and 26 with the world sommeliers present on October 25. More details here and to register click here.