Mark Protheroe is one of Melbourne’s top sommeliers, having worked in many of Australia’s chef hatted restaurants and for some of the world’s most famous culinary icons.
Protheroe ‘s original interest in the profession of a sommelier was the link between winemaking and agriculture.
“My origins are in the Riverina and the ability to return the story to farmers and the base ingredient is something I find quite provocative,” explains Protheroe.
Before Protheroe travelled the globe, working with some of the world’s top restauranteurs, he started his career in Beechworth, Victoria.
The Parlour and Pantry in Beechworth was a one chef hat venue at the time and according to Protheroe had a great collection of local and imported wines.
After three years he headed to Melbourne, with his first role at Melbourne institution, Brunetti, as the Trattoria manager, before moving to Vue de Monde to take on a commis sommelier role.
“While I was in the UK I did a seven week contract at the International Wine Challenge helping to run the back of house,” says Protheroe.
“I was the commis sommelier at Gordon Ramsay’s three Michelin starred Royal Hospital Road.
“At another stage I was the wine department supervisor at Valvona and Crolla in Edinburgh and also the manager at Wood Winters wines and whiskies in a town called Bridge of Allan.”
After returning to Australia, Protheroe spent a few years working at Charcoal Grill on the Hill before taking his role with Grossi Restaurants five years ago.
Last year, Protheroe competed in the inaugural Australia’s Best Sommelier Competition.
He says that the event was a nerve wracking one, with the competitors tasting, theory and practical skills
all being tested.
“It was a great honour to make the finals where once again we had to show our skills in the three previously mentioned categories, however this time it was on stage in front of other competitors and spectators at Ormond Hall in St Kilda.
“I was very happy to finish in the top three with Franck Moreau, who was crowned a worthy winner.”
Since starting with the Grossi restaurants, Protheroe has honed his already impeccable skills in Italian wine and food matching.
He says that Italian wine is broad ranging in style and for him, this is the most unique aspect of Italian wine.
“I am particularly fond of the two regions with active volcanos- Sicily and Campania. The way their dishes and wines have been fine-tuned over centuries is something we can’t replicate yet in Australia.”
In addition to wine, Protheroe is also a beer expert. Some of his favourite Australian beers at the moment include the Bridge Road Brewery beers from Beechworth. Another is Costa at La Sirene.
“He has taken a different route to most focusing on Saison’s,” says Protheroe.
“His love for exploring the world of yeasts active in beer making is contagious.”
Protheroe says he is lucky to work with a plethora of top producers and professionals who inspire him on a daily basis.
“To see someone work on crafting an authentic, high quality product that possesses a real story is worthy of celebration in my eyes. From an industry perspective, people like Patrick Walsh, Grant Van Every and Ben Edwards who helped to forge a career path for sommeliers in Melbourne deserve a lot of praise. They have laid down great foundations for the current breed of sommeliers coming through.”
And what are Protheroe’s favourite wines and beers? He describes himself as having “some sort of attention deficit disorder for both”.
“I would be very happy to drink a different type each day. For me they are often a reflection of my mood and what I am eating.”
Protheroe’s top tips for amateurs when choosing wines:
“Go to a good wine store or cellar door and seek the advice of someone who is knowledgeable. Be clear
on your budget and have a bit of an idea about what you are serving it with.
“I tend to look for intensity and texture as my main guides for achieving a great match with food. Contrary to most beliefs flavour profile matching is not always the most important thing to think of.
“The quality and diversity that is currently on offer from the Australian wine industry is awe-inspiring. There are so many wineries doing great things I would implore more people to get to one of our local wine regions and give them a chance to share their stories.”
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