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Photo for: Tom Lakin - Sommelier at Bristol’s Michelin-Starred Casamia


Tom Lakin - Sommelier at Bristol’s Michelin-Starred Casamia

At Bristol’s Michelin-starred Casamia, Tom Lakin has crafted a wine list as imaginative as the food.

“Sometimes the chefs don't know what they're going to do until they physically get ingredients in front of them,” says Tom Lakin, the sommelier at Bristol’s Michelin-starred Casamia. “When you're ordering wines, that's a massive problem, because you have to agree to certain volumes if you want to get really good prices. That's the challenge, I guess.”

Seasonality is a key element in modern cooking, especially at the top end, but it does present a problem for sommeliers. At Casamia, a 10-table restaurant that is open four days a week on Lower Guinea Street by Bristol’s harbour, the tasting menu changes depending on what’s good - but Lakin, who has compiled a 300-bottle wine list, is happy to tackle the challenge of chef Peter Sanchez-Iglesias’s ingredient-led approach.

“The changes could be the week in week out, they could be seasonal, they could be due to Peter's whim,” he says. “For example; our desserts are always very fruit based, and they really reflect what season we're in because they are around for a month and then they're gone.

“I think the wine needs to work the same way: if we work through three summer berries over the course of two months on the menu, we can get a couple of wines that we know will play with berries. Whatever the chef is going to do, we can get a couple of things in that we know are going to be versatile, and play around with that.”

The creativity of Casamia’s menu means Lakin can be creative with his wine list. Although there are classics here, there’s plenty of more intriguing stuff too. “I get a lot of opportunities to work with wines that are very much at the cutting edge of regions that I personally feel represent really good value,” he says. “Because when you see the new prices for things like Chablis - and there's nothing wrong with Chablis, I list some great Chablis - but they have jumped massively. And the quality of the product has not jumped massively.”

Another advantage of working to a set tasting menu is that the majority of Casamia’s customers are happy to let Lakin choose the wine: around 60 per cent go for the wine pairings flight: “That makes it really exciting because you can just put stuff in front of people without having to do any preamble in terms of upselling the wine. You just get to put it in front of them and, obviously, you're fairly confident that they are going to enjoy the thing.”

Lakin prefers to work with small parcels of wine, which allows him to be more flexible in creating the list. “I don't go to say a big wine supplier and taste something and agree to list that line for forever and a day,” he says. “I'll taste it and I'll work with it for a while, and then we move on from it.”

He’s an advocate for acidity in a wine. “There was a big movement for international styles of wines to be very ripe,” he says. “But I think a lot of wineries in hot places are moving a little bit away from that. They're looking at picking earlier, they're looking at wines that are bit leaner, maybe express a little bit better where it is they come from.

“And if you have wines with acidity, even the biggest wines can be quite elegant on their feet. I certainly see that [trend] in California, in Australia, in Spain, certainly in parts of southern Italy. Where you can find these wines that are really versatile with food and you can offer quite surprising things to people ... I would say that that's a guiding philosophy of a lot of things I choose.”

It’s an approach that means he can sometimes surprise the kitchen and let wine dictate to the food. “I really like pairings when they come from having an interaction with the kitchen,” he says. “There’s a dish we have done in a couple of guises over the past two years: it's a piece of white fish, and we do a champagne sabayon sauce with it, made with sparkling wine.

“When I was looking for a pairing I thought, ‘Well if they made a sparkling wine sauce, what a great opportunity to show people how food-friendly champagne is.’ And so, we got grower champagne to be the pairing on the dish. And then the kitchen saw me doing this, and they said, "Well hang on, can't we make the sauce with your pairing? Will it work?" And so they tasted it and they were happy with it, and now the pairing is also used in the dish.”

About the Author

Will HawkesThis article is written by Will Hawkes, contributing editor for Sommeliers Choice Awards. Will is also a regular contributor to The Financial Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post and Beer Advocate.

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