The Mind of a Sommelier series.)
Lynsey Robbie is the General Manager and Wine Buyer at A Tavola in Winchester. With a new owner and chef, Joe Carli, A Tavola is taking the next step in its evolution and I've recently raved about my positive experiences at this restaurant. I've also noted that A Tavola is a "brave restaurant," having taken a bold stance with their wine list, choosing to restrict their wines to a single country, Italy, which is the country of their chosen cuisine.
Lynsey Robbie first started managing the wine list at A Tavola about eight and a half years ago when the restaurant was first opening. She states it's been such a fun challenge to learn more about Italian wine and curate a list that guests can appreciate. In addition, she mentioned that it makes her so happy to see the guests enjoying the wine and food. Beyond working at A Tavola, Lynsey also loves cooking, dining-out, reading, drawing (skill at least at first grade level ) hiking, running, and attempted gardening (usually killing her plants).
Now, onto the interview:
What term do you use to describe yourself: Sommelier, Wine Steward, Wine Director, something else?
I am the General Manager. Wine buying is one of my main responsibilities (as well as one of the most fun). I would call myself Sommelier only if I passed a certification exam.
Please give a brief description of the wine list at your restaurant.
We have an exclusively Italian wine list that aims to touch on as many of Italy’s regions as possible to showcase the variety of quality Italian wine available.
What are your objectives with the wine list?
For myself, it is a way to learn more about Italian food, wine and culture. It is amazing how much can be learned by studying the history of wine, from realizing how major events (i.e. wars, prohibition, phylloxera, etc) have shaped the industry; to how the everyday life in a small village dictates what people eat and drink. It’s all so fun to learn about.
For my staff, I want them to have the opportunity to learn about some interesting as well as staple Italian wines.
For my guests, I hope they are having fun trying some different wines. Italy has so many grapes and styles to offer.
How often does the wine list change?
Very frequently, there are some staples you can always find and some wines are here and gone in a few days.
Are there omissions on your wine list you would like to fill?
We are a small restaurant with limited space for storing wine. By changing frequently, I hope to bring in everything to taste and get to know. I would say at any given time, we are able to match a wine for whatever our guest happens to be looking for.
How do you learn about new wines?
I read books about wine, I have taken classes on wines, my wine reps are great at bringing in new and interesting things, and I taste plenty of wine, of course! Lots of wine shops have great weekly or monthly tastings. Plus, cooking and pairing at home.
What is the most common wine question asked by your guests?
“Do you have something like....” if a guest doesn’t recognize what their looking for they just ask what’s most like a Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet, etc.
What is the most common criticism you receive from guests about your list?
The list is well received, though I am fortunate that the staff is knowledgeable. It’s important to have accurate descriptions and be able to help with food pairing. I feel the guests have the best experience when they can be guided with the wines a bit. Italian wines can be confusing and sticking with one country can seem limiting. There are a lot of world renowned wines that we don’t offer (Sancerre, Port, Champagne, Bordeaux, etc) all which get asked for by name, so it's up to us to guide the guest on the style their looking for.
Why do you use primarily stemless glassware for wine service?
We use the stemless mainly because they break less and have stemmed glasses for anyone who prefers it or for nicer bottles of wine.
What is your greatest challenge as a sommelier?
Making sure the list stays approachable and doesn’t become esoteric. For me its so fun to learn about historic and lesser known grapes, but I want to make sure that translates into something fun for my guests. I don’t want selecting a wine for dinner to be daunting.
Tell me about 1 or 2 of the most unique wines on your list?
--2017 Masseria Frattasi, Capri Rosso. It's from the little Volcanic Island of Capri, off the coast of Campagna. 80% Aglianico & Piedirosso and 20% indigenous varieties of Naples. Only 600 bottles are made each year. It is completely harvested and de-stemmed by hand. Spends 6-8 months in chestnut barriques. I find it to be powerful as well as elegant. A really great hearty winter wine.
--2011 Marco Bonfante “Albarone” Albarossa. It is a hybrid of Nebbiolo and Barbera (the 2 most popular wines of Piedmont), that is then produced appassimento style (grapes go through a drying process before being pressed and fermented). It has the big tannic structure of Nebbiolo with the friendly fruitiness of the Barbera and intense concentrated flavors often associated with Amarone. It’s a fun one for sure.
Tell me about 1 or 2 of your favorite wines on your list?
Prosecco!! Bubbles of any kind are a personal favorite of mine. As a stand alone beverage or with antipasti or french fries or dessert or cheese. Also, I love Aperol Spritz, the refreshing & classic cocktail of Venice that features Prosecco.
Is there anything else you would like people to know about your wine list, your work as a sommelier, or wine service?
We are having a 5 course Sangiovese dinner coming up April 2nd. I am really excited to show how very different the same grape can present itself.