The Tasting Room's Joey Clooney is a proud "cork dork."
I love to talk about wine with people who share my passion for it. We open bottles, and 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, I introduce you to some of my friends and acquaintances — individuals who love wine as much as I do, who live to taste and learn about it. You’ll appreciate their insight, and I hope you’ll learn something from them as well.
Joey Clooney says he is a “cork dork,” and I believe him. I met him recently at The Tasting Room Uptown Park, where he is the wine sales manager. I was tasting a few of the dishes on the restaurant/wine bar’s menu, and he was pouring the wines. He was professional and self-effacing, qualities that should not be taken for granted. His selected wines were solid. He hails from Houston’s Cy-Fair area, has more than 15 years of experience in the industry, and I look forward to talking with him again soon.
Tell me about three wines that are drinking well at the moment. What makes them worthwhile? How about a food pairing for each?
On the Old World menu, we have a 2007 Rioja Reserva from Sierra Cantabria that is peaking now, and it’s delicious. It is produced in more of a New World-style than typical Riojas, with less of the cedar and cigar box nuances of typical French-oaked Riojas, and vanillins and coconut aromas that suggest a healthy proportion of American oak. Our Goldeneye is my recent infatuation on the Pinot Noir list. Anderson Valley has come a long way, and the quality of fruit in the Goldeneye is superb. Another good suggestion would be our Alexana tête de cuvée Chardonnay, for the same reason: the fruit is distinct. On the more adventurous side, our Montes “Purple Angel” is a richly textured Carménère-based Chilean that is drinking well right now.
Let’s say that cost is no consideration: What’s the one bottle you would add to your personal collection?
If cost was no consideration, several of our wines would be in my personal collection. I would love to have a bottle of Romanée-Conti at the house, a Penfold’s Grange, some vintage Champagnes, a couple of bottles of Mersault, and that 6-liter Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoch (it would look really good in my front room).
What is your favorite grape? And why?
I am forever being asked if I have a favorite grape or region. The answer is no. Several factors determine my cravings, and I generally follow them. Is it hot out, or cold? Is this wine to be paired with food, or consumed without food? If with food, obviously that is a factor. I don’t drink the big, full-bodied reds as much as I used to. I still enjoy chewy Napa cab’s occasionally, but I drink a lot of Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache, Italian wines (I love Nebbiolo), and Bordeaux. I love most whites, but Burgundies have a special place in my heart.
How about one bottle that our readers should buy now to cellar for 10 years, to celebrate a birth, anniversary or other red-letter day?
Some lay-down selections? All of our Romanée-Conti’s are 2012 and will require several years before drinking. So those are obvious choices, but very expensive. The Gruaud-Larose will lay down well, and we still have Grange, which will handle the years gracefully. Mascot is so bold right now that it could sit for a couple of years easily.
What is the one thing you wish everyone would remember when buying and drinking wine?
Diversify your tastes. Wine is an agrarian product, just like the produce at the grocery store. I don’t know anyone who eats only apples, to the exclusion of pears, cherries, melons, lemons, or pineapples. I do, however, know a lot of people who drink Cabernet only, or who drink nothing but Pinot Grigio. I never got that; there is a wine for every mood.
Where is your go-to place — other than The Tasting Room — when you want to have a glass or bottle?
Boringly enough, my favorite place to drink wine is in my home. I think more people should explore the idea of taking wine home rather than needing to go out for it. A night on the town is great, and everybody needs that from time to time, but you don’t need to go out every time you have wine. For me, wine tastes good on my sofa.
What was your “wine eureka moment” — the incident/taste/encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?
I couldn’t credit a single “eureka” moment, but several experiences have drawn me to wine. I’m fortunate enough to have a sister who lives 20 minutes out of Napa, so I go to there often. We have through the years taken many vineyard trips throughout Napa and Sonoma, and on occasion have made the drive down to the Central Coast. Every time I take a wine trip, it affirms my love of what I do. Now I just need another family member to move to Tuscany.
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