Chef’s Table - List master

I hadn’t seen Randall Roberts for more than 20 years when I met up with him while he was pouring wine at a restaurant event. Roberts is a wine consultant for Empire Distributors, a job he has held for four years. Prior to working at Empire and National Distributing before that, he spent 15 years in the restaurant business, in every job save general manager and executive chef. He works with the beverage directors and assistant general managers at restaurants such as Chops, the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, Murphy’s, Bluepointe and MidCity Cuisine to shape their wine lists.

Creative Loafing: Sounds like a sweet job: tasting wine, hanging out at swank restaurants.

Roberts:It is in many ways. But it’s still a job with its trials and tribulations.

How’d your love affair with wine begin?

At my first fine dining restaurant, the maitre d’ gave me a book on French wine. It appealed to my love of history and geography, since most European wines are named after a place. I learned I could indeed taste differences in wines. Coming from humble Midwestern roots, I didn’t know I had a palate.

What does a wine consultant actually do?

My job is to move my company’s wine business forward. We’ve identified the top 150 wine accounts in the city and split them between two wine consultants. It’s my job to aid the sales reps and educate restaurant staff on my products and sometimes on general wine information. I also work events like wine dinners, tastings and festivals. In addition to some sales and marketing, I get a say in what brands we decide to bring in and pricing. It’s pretty unique.

What’s the one wine that’s got to be on every list?

Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay has been the No. 1 wine in white tablecloth restaurants for 15 years or so. It’s high quality and one of the wines people will buy. Wine lists have to have a balance of interesting, new, and hard-to-find wines, along with wines that consumers feel comfortable and confident ordering.

Is there a dream restaurant’s wine list you would like to work on?

I have never coveted a certain restaurant’s list. I work on what’s in front of me. I want to build the best wine list for whomever I’m working with. I take ownership in all my wine lists and want them to be successful.

What do you drink when you are off duty?

When I’m not working, I switch to vodka.

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