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The Wine Questionnaire with Bill McCleary

Posted on Feb 6th 2020

Written by
Lindsey Coleman

Bill McCleary has been a beloved member of the Surdyk's Wine Department for over 16 years, and has helped countless people select the perfect wine to celebrate the big events in their lives.

Inspired by “The Wine Questionnaire” by Jay McInerney, we’ve asked Bill to tell us about some of his favorite experiences with wine.

Your Best Wine Memory

There are a lot of memories, but this is the one I like the best. Back in 2003, my wife and I were planning a trip to Napa Valley and wanted to do something more active than just going to the different wineries. We heard about these concerts that the Mondavi Winery put on throughout the summer and thought that might be fun. So, we got the tickets, put together a little picnic and brought our chairs. You get to the winery and they have a stage set up right up on the grass against the vines; so picturesque.


We didn’t realize it at the time but it just so happened that they were celebrating Robert Mondavi’s 90th Birthday on the day of the concert! As luck would have it, we were sitting kind of in the back, and sure enough, there he is on his 90th birthday. They took him up front, he waved to everyone, and his wife led everyone in singing “Happy Birthday” with the band. It was more damn fun. I didn’t get to talk to him but I was there with him! In my mind, he was the most iconic figure in wine and I was really infatuated with Napa Valley. To me, it was one of the most fun days, and even though it wasn’t just about wine, being there was really a neat experience.

Burgundy or Bordeaux

I’m a Bordeaux guy, definitely. I love Cabernet, it’s the varietal I tend to focus on, and so,

Bordeaux… definitely.

New World or Old World

This is a harder one to decide. In the years I’ve been at Surdyk’s, there has been a slow but continuous move from California-style to more focus on Old World. New World wines are still a work in progress - relatively young and the wines are great, but more spotlight types. But when it comes to the Old World, people still drink wine for the right reason: it goes so well with food. I drink wine because I like it with food and pairing it with things. With more emphasis on the subtleties, it’s Old World for me.

Your Favorite Region

Tuscany. For the wines, of course, but also for the scenery and for the people. Italians have a different way of looking at food and wine - pairing and drinking it. I really enjoy Tuscan wines, particularly Chianti Classico.

The Best Wine You’ve Ever Tasted

1997 DRC La Tache Monopole.


I had been waiting and waiting for a special occasion to drink this wine I received as a gift. A year goes by and another year goes by and finally, we decided that the wine itself would be the special occasion.


In January 2017, we made an incredible beef bourguignon, we decanted the wine, it was at its peak, and it truly was the best wine I’ve ever tasted.

Your Favorite Winemaker or Vineyard

Fred Peterson of Peterson Winery in Dry Creek. At this point, Fred feels like an old friend. I’ve been out to his winery and have had dinners with him a number of times. He makes small-batch wines, and it’s certainly not the most expensive wine or some iconic celebrity, but I like the way he thinks and I like the way he makes his wines.

Your Favorite Food & Wine Pairing

A cedar-plank grilled salmon with Pinot Noir.

What wine do you wish you could taste?

I’d like to taste Screaming Eagle, maybe one 10-15 years old - simply because of its goofy name. Honestly, I’d like to taste it if only to prove to myself it’s no better than some other wines.

Every wine collection should include:


What country would you visit for its vineyards

Italy or France - you see these rolling hills and these vineyards that have been there since Roman times. It’s hard not to think of the history.

If you could only drink one wine for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Cabernet Sauvignon for its sophistication and complexity...

"I’m a Cab guy. Fill me full of Cabs."

Your favorite phrase or quote about wine

“Lots of wines, many of them good wines, let you taste the noise… but only the best let you taste the silence.”

This is from Terry Theise and his “Theise Manifesto.” There is something there that is like life, you can go to a party and you can be part of the noise and people and the crowds, but your best moments are in the silence, in the quiet and you’re with friends, or nature, or family. It’s certainly is true of wine… it’s not at all about what you’re describing, what they taste like - like butter, or cloves, or grass...

it’s what the wine does to you and with you.


Terry says wine is a companion for a few hours; you share a love affair for a short period of time. The best wines you have are the ones you share an experience with. That’s when you find the silence.

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