Culture / Foodie Events

Wine Talk: Ryan Cooper of Camerata is a Riesling Man

BY // 07.02.15
Ryan Cooper tends the bar at Camerata. (Photo by Debora Smail)
Ryan Cooper tends the bar at Camerata. (Photo by Debora Smail)

I love to talk about wine with people who share my passion for it. We trade stories about travel and winemakers and terroir and residual sugar, and we talk of taste and food pairings and cost. We recommend wines to one another, and we drink, and we learn a lot. In Wine Talk, a new series at PaperCity, I’m going to introduce you to some of my wine friends. Up first is Ryan Cooper, who shares my Riesling fetish and has poured me many a glass. He is a bartender at Camerata, one of my favorite wine bars in Houston, and he also knows his way around a barbecue pit. A Houston native, Cooper has worked in the restaurant industry for 10 years.

Tell me about three wines that are drinking well at the moment. What makes them worthwhile? How about a food pairing for each?
First, there’s Les Quarterons 2013 from Domaine Etienne et Sébastien Riffault. Sébastien is one of the pioneers of organic and biodynamic farming in Sancerre. One hundred percent Sauvignon Blanc, harvested almost a month later than most others in the region, so the fruit is ripe and honeyed. The younger Riffault is changing the game in Sancerre, and he’s only 26. You can find this bottle at good wine bars for around $55 a bottle; I like pairing it with a roast chicken or Meyer lemon risotto.

Sébastien Riffault loves Sancerre. (Photo courtesy
Sébastien Riffault loves Sancerre. (Photo courtesy

Next, Weingut Nigl Zweigelt Rose 2013, from Austria’s Kremstal region. This wine is like Taylor Swift: so damn pretty and likable it’s disgusting. Dry and crisp, with ripe berry fruit balanced with subtle minerality and a clean, balanced finish. If you are out at a wine bar, it’ll cost you around $39. It’s a killer value. Drink with sushi.

Finally, I think the Passopisciaro Nerello Mascalese 2012 is great right now. Indigenous grapes growing in mineral-rich lava soils of the active volcano Mount Etna on Sicily. Imagine if Pinot Noir meets Sangiovese for cocktails, one thing leads to another, and before you know it, you have a delicious Sicilian baby. Quite aromatic, with ripe red fruits, crisp acidity and scorched-earth minerality. Decanting is recommended, because this wine is young and needs oxygen. You can find it for around $75 at good wine bars. If you open a bottle to serve with spaghetti puttanesca, you won’t be sorry.

A Rhône beauty
A Rhône beauty

Let’s say that cost is no consideration: What’s the one bottle you would add to your personal collection?
I would love to taste any of Auguste Clape’s Cornas wines. Northern Rhône Syrah is so distinct and ideal for pairing with most red meats. They are savory, smoky and rich without being overly extracted, like most New World Syrah in the market. Cornas is such a tiny region that it’s tough to find iconic producers like Clape. If I had to name a specific bottle, I’d say a 1991 Clape Cornas.

What is your favorite grape?
Riesling. I’ve invested a lot of my time trying to change drinkers’ perception of this magical grape. I’d say 95 percent of people in Houston hear “Riesling” and immediately assume that it’s sweet. The truth is, Rieslings can be some of the driest white wines in the world. It just depends on the culture of winemaking in the region and winemaker preference. And, yes, some are sweet and gross, but many are sweet and exquisite. And last time I checked, Americans love sugar. Just ask Coca-Cola.

How about one bottle that our readers should buy now to cellar for 10 years in anticipation of celebrating a birth, anniversary or other red-letter day?
Nothing starts a party like bubbles, and if you’re celebrating, do yourself a favor and invest in some Krug. I was fortunate enough to taste the 1990 awhile back, and it was still drinking beautifully. It’s delicious when young, but after a decade or so the layers of flavor that unfold over your palate may very well change your life.

What is the one thing you wish everyone would keep in mind when buying and drinking wine?
I wish that people would drink more seasonally. Big red wines have their place, but when it’s 100 degrees outside, why would you want to drink the wine equivalent of beef stew? And, when pairing, try to think of the wine as a condiment to your food. Ordering that juicy Malbec or Zinfandel with your ribeye is like smothering it in blackberry jam. Try it with Syrah (not Shiraz) instead. Mostly, I encourage the consumer to find sommeliers they trust and start a dialogue about what they’re looking for in a wine. That way, they may walk away having tried something they never would have thought to order, but something they end up truly loving.

Besides your own establishment, where is your go-to place when you want to have a glass or bottle?
While I’m convinced that Justin Vann is an escaped mental patient, he somehow manages to run a hell of a bar at Public Services Wine & Whisky. Their half-priced bottle Happy Hour may be the best in town.

What was your “wine eureka moment” — the incident/taste/encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?
The first time I tasted with David Keck [head sommelier at Camerata] and realized how exciting wine could be — and how little I actually knew.

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