The Buyer
LWF Wine Buyers Awards: Martin Lam on being a good buyer

LWF Wine Buyers Awards: Martin Lam on being a good buyer

There are no hard or fast rules when it comes to buying wine for a restaurant wine list, but there are arguably more ways in which you can get it wrong, than if you play it safe with well known varieties from established regions and countries. To stand out in the new London Wine Fair Wine Buyers Awards you are going to have to do a lot more than that. One of the judges for the Restaurant and Wine Bar category, Martin Lam, explains what he thinks makes a good wine buyer.

Richard Siddle
17th January 2020by Richard Siddle
posted in People,People: On-Trade,

If you want to enter the London Wine Fair’s new Wine Buyers Awards then you need to move fast as entries close on January 20. Ahead of the deadline Martin Lam sets out what he sees are the strengths of a good wine buyer.

The new Wine Buyers Awards are the first time individuals across all channels of the retail, independent, restaurant, hotel and bar sectors have been recognised in this way with their own standalone awards. It’s all thanks to London Wine Fair that hopes to shine the light brightly on all the talent there is working, often, behind the scenes to create the wine lists that keep the rest of the wine industry in business. After all it’s one thing making, importing and distributing wine, if there are not the end buyers around to put it on their shelves or restaurant wine lists then the sector fails to function.

The key to these awards is to recognise and reward the best wine buying talent there is across the UK wine industry. To help do so requires the skill of its judges and the London Wine Fair has been able to call on a panel of people who are mostly all great buyers in their own right.

The Buyer has teamed up with the London Wine Fair to help promote the Restaurant and Wine Bar category and earlier this week we heard from one of the judges Christine Parkinson and her insights into buying wine. Today it is the turn of Martin Lam, a trained chef, who for years ran his own restaurant, Ransome’s Dock, where he got more heavily involved in buying wine for his list. So what are his secrets to the art of buying wine?

You are involved in helping to judge the Wine Buyers Awards from London Wine Fair – what do you think of the awards and why did you
want to be involved?

It’s a good new initiative to encourage group wine buyers to offer the best selection and quality of wines.

What advice would you have for anyone entering on how best to show what they can do as a buyer?
I would recommend how they look to get diversity into their wine range, value for money, and how appropriate it is for each site.

What is your approach to wine buying? How do you decide on a wine or a producer to work with?
There are many considerations to take into account. From the quality of the wine, how well it matches with food, how it fits into the rest of the range and and the style of venue you are buying wine for.

Have those criteria changed over the years?
Some remain the same, the choice of wines available has increased, although not always the quality at all price levels.

People often talk about wines that offer great value for money – what would be your interpretation of a good value wine?
It can be at any price level. An entry level wine that delivers great value can be your biggest ally, as much as a high end wine with a smallish cash margin

Can you explain how you got into wine buying in the first place?

Martin Lam’s Ransome’s Dock became as well regarded for its wines as it did its food

With Nick Lander at L’Escargot in the 1980s and then at my own restaurant, Ransome’s Dock (1992-2013).

What do you most enjoy about buying wine?
Delivering as good an experience with wine as with a food menu.

What are the biggest challenges and have they got worse over the years?
Finding good value in Burgundy, and to a lesser extent Bordeaux.

Where do you see the best wine buying opportunities in the future in terms of countries and styles for the premium on-trade?
Regional France, Spain, Italy, South Africa, Austria and Germany, Eastern Mediterranean, northern and southern Chile (eg Itata), Australia and New Zealand.

Martin Lam getting to grips with Vouvray on one of The Buyer’s restaurant buyer tours (Tayo Lee Nelson Photography)

How do you think wines overall have changed and moved on during your time buying wine?
Generationally many people buy now much more by grape variety or country, rather than old style appellation.

Have those changes been mostly for the better?
In democratising the ability to choose easily yes, but it also dumbs down choices somewhat if people will not learn more.

If not where have the problems come up?
When wine is merely seen as a beverage, and the drinker is not very adventurous.

What advice would you give to a restaurant buyer about choosing wines for a list – what are the key things to get right?
Know your market, and try as hard as you can to develop it – it will bring customer loyalty if you do.

  • Martin Lam is a food, restaurant and wine consultant and buys wine from a number of leading operators, including Zetter. You can contact him through his website,

London Wine Fair : Wine Buyers Awards

Entries for the first Wine Buyers Awards close on January 20 so there is not much time to get your entries in. The key is to channel your energies to the right category. The new awards are split into the following areas:

  • Restaurant and Wine bar Buyer Award
  • Supermarket & Multiple Retailer Buyer Award
  • Online Specialist Buyer Award
  • Independent Merchant Buyer Award
  • Pub Buyer Award
  • Rising Star Buyer Award – to recognise the achievements of those 35 years and under, operating in any of the five channels.

You will be expected to provide detailed information that demonstrates your wine buying skills, including the following criteria.

  • what kind of margins are you expected to achieve and how you deliver them.
  • how you have worked with suppliers to optimise deals.
  • do you involve your staff in your buying decisions.
  • how far you plan your wine list in advance.
  • examples of promotions, events, seasonal listings.
  • keeping on top of trends and which ones work in your business.

If you think you have what it takes then you can find all the details on how to enter here.

Key dates

Deadline for entries: January 20 2020

Shortlist revealed: February 25 2020

Awards Ceremony: May 19 2020