Mark Roberts

Director

Mark spent three years in the London office of John Harvey and Sons, after which he joined Laytons Wine Merchants, followed by a three year stint at Charles Taylor wines.

Mark reputedly has one of the finest tasting palates in the industry and an encyclopaedic knowledge of not only fine wine, but is also curiously passionate about prog-rock bands, all matters sporting and London restaurant openings. A creature of habit, when not in the office you’ll likely find Mark at London’s newest go-to restaurant or even at a rock concert, ideally at Glastonbury.


Vinous & Curious Q&A

What is your first memory about wine?

It was during my teenage years when my parents started to order wine from a great family friend – he was going to over to France in his Peugeot 504 estate, and filling up the car-boot. It seemed terribly sophisticated and glamorous at the time.

The real Damascene moment, however, was when Oddbins opened up on Oxford High Street in 1984. Having been used to buying from off-licences, where wine was hidden away at the back, away from the beers, spirits, and cigarettes, one was suddenly faced with shelf after shelf of bottles of which one had never heard…it was way too much information for a callow 19 year old, and so I purchased my regular red, Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon at £1.99, an extremely safe bet. The man at the till was having none of it: he explained that all my money was going on tax and on-costs, the liquid was barely 5p. Whereas if I doubled my spend, I’d be getting at least a quid’s worth of juice. No-brainer, and out I walked with a bottle of Juliénas. Cork was pulled that evening: it was a revelation – once you had finished your glass, you immediately wanted another one. Hooked.

Your best memory, or a very special one?

Too many from which to choose…when I worked for John Harvey & Sons, the company owned 25% of Château Latour – I was able to drink the 1970, the 1966, the 1961, the 1955, and the 1945 (apologies for the gloating). The ’55 is the one that sticks in the memory. Then there was a pasta supper in front of the TV one evening, early 1990s: my friend told me to raid her Dad’s cellar, and so I picked off 1970 Domaine de Chevalier blanc, 1975 Château Léoville Las Cases, and 1948 Taylor’s. No surprises when I say they all slipped down effortlessly.

A lunch in an Alsace restaurant a couple of years ago also springs to mind, where the three of us spotted a couple of well-priced Rhônes: 2000 Château Rayas, and 1988 Côte-Rôtie, La Turque, from Guigal – plenty of expectation was riding on the latter bottle, I had never before drunk, and I approached it with the thought that it was bound to be over-hyped. It was not. Utterly sublime.

And then I was lucky enough to have 3 hits of Giacomo Conterno’s 1964 Barolo: firstly, at an auction house lunch, since a parcel was coming up at their next sale; then 5 days later, served blind from one of our customer’s cellars – I told him I was clueless as to what it was, no idea at all, but said that if I had to take a punt, it reminded me of a ’64 Barolo…his jaw dropped…I came clean, I confessed that I’d had it the previous week, and it was the only thing I had to go on, 100% fluke; and the final bottle was given to me for my 50th. Stunning, it had aged considerably better than the recipient.

If you could bring, only one bottle to a deserted island, what would it be?

Ten years ago, it would have been red burgundy all the way: possibly the 1990 Clos de la Roche from Dujac, or any vintage of Rousseau’s Gevrey Clos St-Jacques (it has NEVER disappointed, whatever the vintage). And would love to see how Preuré Roch’s 1998 Clos de Bèze is faring these days. Now I’m not so sure…maybe a Punset Barbaresco? A Fratelli Alessandria Barolo, a toss-up between the Gramolere and the Monvigliero? I feel that Nebbiolo can match every nuance and subtlety of the Pinot Noir.

If you were a wine, what would we read on your label?

One would hope that a tasting-note on the back label would encompass words such as restraint, benign, and flow, possibly (or possibly not) placid and serene. Suspect none would make the cut.

There was always a pipe-dream of writing about rock music, but that ship as long since sailed (Sounds, the NME, and now Q magazine, all sadly missed). Perhaps working for the Pearl Jam Fan Club in Seattle might suit, i/c merchandise.

The perfect evening: what wine, what music, what dish, etc…?

Dinner in a ristorante somewhere in the hills surrounding Alba, Piemonte, for sure. Simple fare: hard to beat vitello tonnato, followed by agnolotti del plin. A glass of local spumante as the aperitivo; Arneis with the veal; and a light Barbera with the pasta. Then some Nebbiolo with the cheese – could be Barolo, could be Barbaresco, but a good Langhe would still do the trick.

A move through the gears on the musical front: firstly, some Lightnin’ Hopkins and John Lee Hooker, followed by JJ Cale, Little Feat, and then into Neil Young. Up a notch with Van Halen, and finishing with a ménage à trois, comprising of AC/DC, Rammstein and Metallica. Nice.

And if not wine, what do you drink?

Beer always good – never any shame in supping a George Gale HSB, or some Ringwood Fortyniner. And Hook Norton’s Old Hooky is sublime, especially when poured at the Peyton Arms, Stoke Lyne. Otherwise, it’s a G&T: doesn’t have to be a boutique number, Beefeater does the job perfectly. And never forget the joy of the digestif, whether an eau de vie from Miclo (preferably framboise), or a pure ‘grappa bianca’ (either Sesti or Sibona).