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A drink with… Raimonds Tomsons

Named ASI Best Sommelier of the World in February, Raimonds Tomsons is wine director at Barents Wine Collectors in Latvia. He talks to Sorrel Moseley-Williams about Greek wines, Gimlets and getting up at 5.30am to study wine theory.

After working front of house for two decades at Vincents restaurant in Riga, Raimonds Tomsons is now wine director at Barents Wine Collectors in Latvia. In 2019, he came third in the ASI Best Sommelier of the World contest; in February 2023 he took first place. 

‘I came into the world of wine by accident. I planned to study foreign languages but didn’t qualify for university and had two options. Go into the army – because in Latvia at the end of the 1990s, you had to do military service – or train as a bartender. After that course, I got a job as a restaurant trainee and stayed at Vincents for 20 years until 2019. That’s where I found my passion for hospitality, great dining – and wine.’

‘My first wine memory is Lindeman’s Bin 65 Chardonnay. I wondered how it could smell of butter, banana and pineapple. That was one of the first international wines I ever tasted. I hadn’t been exposed much to wine at that point, but it was easy to understand.’

‘One of the most special bottles I’ve opened was a Petrus. In a small market like Latvia, it never used to be the norm to be exposed to such vintages. I was also lucky to serve a Domaine de la Romanée-Conti thanks to a generous French wine collector. I was just happy to be there when he brought out that 1978.’

‘One region that excites me is Greece. We know its great history as one of the world’s first winemaking countries but it’s especially exciting now because of the indigenous grape varieties and styles being made on the different islands.’

‘Austria has always been close to my heart for its whites, but if I had to choose just one country, it would be France. The Loire Valley is undervalued at the moment; everyone loves the big three but the Loire is a hidden gem. Jura is also a favourite – specifically Savagnin whites.’

‘At home I tend to follow my feelings. I might drink white, red or bubbles. But it also depends on who might be visiting me and my wife. Yesterday I went into my cellar and opened a bottle of Mutsu Hassen Hanaomoi 50 Junmai Daiginjo sake. We sommeliers like to say we love sake and Sherry – but many don’t actually drink them at home!’

‘I also liked gin-based cocktails such as Gimlets and Negronis, as well as Margaritas. For my last birthday, friends gave me a Boston shaker set, so I mix drinks from time to time.’

‘When it comes to hospitality, the most important approach is understanding that being a good sommelier is being a good – and humble – waiter. You need to like people and understand that the most important person in your restaurant is the guest, and not you.’

‘Another rule is letting guests know you care about their preferences, because as soon as you play with your ego and offer wine you like, that’s not right – unless the guest is asking for that. Wine is emotional and we sommeliers are ambassadors.’

‘The toughest aspect of preparing for the ASI Best Sommelier of the World contest was time management. Creating a plan is one thing, but sticking to it is another. The road was full of challenges, obstacles and failures. Getting up at 5.30am to study theory, taking the kids to school at 9am, then going to work… But it was an enjoyable journey because if you challenge yourself, you’ll be a better professional.’

‘It’s still difficult to find the right words to describe winning the ASI Best Sommelier of the World contest in February but it’s an amazing feeling. For the first few days it was like a dream; a week later, I realised it had actually happened. Of course, that was my goal after competing for the past few years. It’s the highest award for any sommelier and I’ve fulfilled one of my life’s ambitions.’

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