Wine is the nectar of the gods. It enhances any meal or joyous celebration, and people can spend a lifetime learning the nuances of the spirit. So it’s no wonder that one of Houston’s most well-versed experts, sommelier Marc Borel, has been helping locals discover the beverage’s complexity for years.
“Wine is my life. There’s not an experience that I have had in the last few decades that hasn’t included wine in some fashion,” he says. “I started collecting about 30 years ago when I was given a Bordeaux from the 1950s, which I still have. I wanted to know why these bottles were so special, and what makes them expensive and collectable, so I started reading about it. I’ve always been interested to know more about wines.”
By exploring his passion for wine, Borel developed a knowledge base that has earned him a reputation as Houston’s go-to wine guy. It’s also brought him attention from revered industry peers.
As the wine director and buyer for a newly-opened South American restaurant in 2011, his wine list was recognized as one of the top 100 U.S. lists by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. He also received a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for that same list. Borel became an industry staple as the general manager of a decades-old heritage restaurant, the general manager and wine buyer for a chain of Italian restaurants, and the corporate operations officer for a celebrity chef-driven farm-to-table restaurant in downtown Houston.
Currently, Borel is flexing his wine knowledge as beverage director for Rainbow Lodge, where he curates everything from hot tea and bottled water to their cocktail and wine list. Under his guidance, Rainbow Lodge has recently been honored with Wine Spectator Magazine’s “Best Of” Award of Excellence for two years in a row. This award recognizes restaurants whose beverage programs offer interesting selections, are appropriate to their cuisine, and appeal to a wide range of wine lovers. Only 14 restaurants in Houston have been awarded this honor.
“I’ve worked really hard to build a program that has something for everyone and every budget. What we do is something that is going to go great with food. We have the staples, but if you want to have some fun exploring other wines, we can do that in any price range. We can enjoy some great wine and learn a thing or two.”
Borel’s overriding theory about wine is that people shouldn’t buy wine based on its perceived value or popular opinion. He encourages people to break down the factors of what they like or don’t like, to enhance their next purchase.
“It’s important to recognize what you don’t like. Is something too dry, tannic, juicy, or sweet? Knowing that helps identify what you could enjoy instead. I’m a big believer that you should drink what you like. If you like the six-dollar stuff at Target, you should drink it,” he says. “[Because of my job] I get to taste stuff that is rare and unique, so it’s easy for me to understand what I like and don’t like. So my job is to give you something you like, without judgment, and with a smile.”
In his spare time, Borel also runs a venture that offers private at-home tasting experiences and classes.
“I’ll bring a handful of bottles, talk to a small group of people, and conduct a tasting. If someone wants to bring me in, I work with them to come up with a theme, and it’s different for everyone. One couple was about to go on a cruise around the world, so we did six wines to follow the destinations on their cruise. Another group wanted ‘bubbles by the pool,’ so we did sparkling wines,” he says. “It’s not a classroom, even though everyone is learning. I try to keep it fun and conversational, and people can bring their questions or comments. It’s a program, but it’s really casual.”
So what is Borel’s current top wine choice? With wines being so varied, his favorites change as often as the Texas weather. “In order to answer that, a few other questions would need to be answered: What time of the day is it? Am I eating, am I at home, or am I at a bar? Those make a difference. If I’m lounging, I love a rosé from Bandol because it’s a special place for me. In Houston, you can drink it all year long. It goes with everything.”
He also notes that champagne is a universally good choice. “I love to start an experience—a dinner or a date or an evening out—with champagne. You just can’t go wrong with champagne. Right now, I’m really enjoying Billecart-Salmon. It’s Brut Sous Bois—earthy and yeasty, and not at all sweet. It’s bone-dry, and it’s doing it for me.”
Despite his well of knowledge, Borel admits that wine is an ever-changing product, and he stays on top of each year’s new releases. He travels extensively, both domestically and internationally, to taste and continue learning.
“For someone in this business, they need to experience firsthand the wine regions. A lot of people will say region X is known for this flavor component because of the soil or rocks. You can read about it, but unless you touch it and see the slope of the hill or the water rushing in the river beside the vineyard, you don’t understand it. Traveling and tasting helps you to recognize how A+B=C.”
Check out the food and beverage selection at Rainbow Lodge by visiting rainbow-lodge.com. To learn more about Borel’s private wine tastings, visit marcborel.com.
This article appears in the April 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.