At just 21, Mark C. Roberts became one of the first sommeliers in Texas. In his 20s Roberts developed the beverage program for the Shoreline Restaurant Group in Dallas, Texas, that set the bar for innovation in food and wine pairing. After leaving the hospitality industry he moved into the fine wine retailer arena and held positions as Wine Director, Director of Fine Wine Marketing and Corporate Wine Buyer.
During this tenure he successfully secured a wine writing position with a North Texas lifestyle publication as well as authored over 50 articles on the subject of fine wine. He later founded Wine Service Consulting, Inc. (WSC) in 2005, to offer a more diverse service to the wine world. Today, WSC conducts expert witness and wine claims investigations in the Inland, Air and Marine Shipping Industry along with other services.
Chef’s Roll recently caught up with Mark, and he shed some knowledge on the diverse arena of wine consulting.
You are the Owner & Founder of Wine Service Consulting Inc., providing professional and confidential wine consulting services to private collectors, wineries and intermodal shippers. How did your passion and knowledge of wine start?
Being an avid reader, I truly enjoyed Ian Flemings’ James Bond novels when I was a teenager. When I first read in Goldfinger that Dom Perignon ’53 served above the temperature of 38 degrees just wasn’t done, I was intrigued. Or in Diamonds are Forever when Bond called out the bad guy dressed as a waiter that the 1955 Mouton-Rothschild is claret, or perhaps reading in Casino Royale that Veuve Clicquot goes great with scrambled eggs at four in the morning. I mean c’mon, Bond is cool and I wanted to drink what he drank, so I started studying about fine wine.
At Wine Service Consulting Inc., you specialize in Cargo & Inland Marine wine claims and wine cellar appraisals. What has been the most unique wine claim and or cellar appraisal you’ve consulted for?
I was called upon to do the appraisal of a cellar that contained 800-plus bottles for a divorce attorney. Upon my arrival I noticed a rather large moving truck parked in the driveway that was being loaded with what seemed like everything in the house. As the day progressed in the cataloging of wines I asked our host, “Why the great haste?” She replied, “Everything has to be out of this house by five o’clock, because my husband will be home at 5:30.” Not being one to pass judgement, but there are three sides to every story; his, hers and the truth. Can you imagine his surprise?
“Nothing is more important than a strong sense of moral ethics and business integrity.”
At the young age of 21, you became one of the first sommeliers in Texas. How has the Texas wine industry grown over the years since then?
In the early 80’s, we didn’t have the internet and no one in this country at that time had any idea of what a sommelier was or actually did. Back then we were simply referred to as beverage directors. Over the years though, cities like Dallas and Houston were getting a reputation for great restaurants, and with that the wine list selections really started to step up. Furthermore, with the creation of TEXSOM in 2004 by a small group of forward-thinking Master Sommeliers, the Texas fine wine scene bloomed and has, in my opinion, some of the best young talent in the country.
The best elements of acquisition for a fine or rare wine for a collector is due diligence. I cannot stress enough the importance of provenance, especially in the derivation of rare wine. Fine wine bought at the retailer level for long term cellaring should include the best vintages, from the best vineyards and the best producers. Proper storage requirements come into play as well, but you can throw all that out the window unless you have insurance on anything more than $500.00 in value. Your home insurance policy will not cover over that amount and you will need a separate rider for your collection.
If you could get your hands on any bottle of wine in the world, what would it be?
In November of 1997, 75 cases of the 1995 Dominio de Pingus went down in the Atlantic off the coast of the Azores Islands. They were headed to the US on a container ship and now lie at a depth of at least two miles down. I have always been curious as to the effects of deep water wine maturation, and besides, it’s one of the best Tempranillo’s produced in the world today, in any vintage.
What is your wine philosophy?
Be polite, professional, and have a plan to serve everyone in the room. In this profession you have to be at the top of your game and always over-deliver to your clients while exceeding their expectations. Nothing is more important than a strong sense of moral ethics and business integrity.
What are some over-rated international wine regions we should have in our radar?
In the past 15 years I have thought that Napa Valley was getting an over-rated status. By that I mean that a lot of the original blue chip wineries have become so large in production that they have lost their true identity. Too often I find $60.00 bottles of Napa cabernet that say “Cellared and Bottled by,” and not “Produced and Bottled by.” But in recent years I have discovered Napa wines from small producers that are single vineyard, site specific and of remarkable quality. These are the wines that consumers and wine professionals alike should seek out.
Finally, what is your tip to help select a bottle of wine?
Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. The world of wine is incredibly vast and there are plenty of varietals and regions to discover. Trust your sommelier or retail wine guy. They are in this business out of passion and strive to ensure that you make a smart buying decision.
Wine Service Consulting Inc. has provided professional and confidential consulting services for Insurers, Insured, Private Collectors, Wineries and Intermodal Shippers. Specializing in Cargo & Inland Marine wine claims, wine cellar appraisals and corporate aviation beverage service training. To learn more about Wine Service Consulting Inc. visit Mark Robert’s SOMM’s List Profile.