Continuing on last week’s great start with Ben Carter, introducing our favorite wine writers to you, this week we pick up the thread by interviewing Clifford Brown of Cliff’s picks.
As I mentioned last week, the point of this series is to give you a better idea of the palates involved in the wine writing world today, and of course to show you the fabulous diversity that can be found among today’s wine writers. In fact I’d go so far as to say that I hope this series of articles inspires some of you out there to pick up the pen and put words to paper. You never know who shares your palate and passion but simply doesn’t have to the time to do all the, umm, err, research that we get to do! So take a minutes and get to know Clifford Brown!Snooth: How did you get involved in wine?
C.B. We started out as casual wine drinkers in the early 1990s while living in East Texas. During our weekly grocery shopping trips we would grab a few bottles of White Zinfandel or some other off-dry wine off the grocery store's shelf. Most of the wine's we picked up were from Sutter Home or similar wineries. Occasionally we would grab a bottle of dry red wine to try but they just didn't appeal to us. As beginners, with no one to help us on our vinous journey, these $5 bottles of dry red wines lead us to the realization we just didn't like dry wines. When we moved to Wisconsin a few years later, we started to attend "sit down" wine tastings at a local, higher end market. We were absolutely blown away by how much we loved quality, dry wines. From here, our education and enjoyment of dry wines exploded.
Snooth: How did you get involved in wine writing?
C.B. For a few years I would "talk" about wine, post my opinions and tasting notes on Twitter. Several social media friends prodded me to start a blog. After kicking around the idea for a couple years, I jumped in and haven't looked back. I'd like to expand my blog to include more than just tasting notes and write ups about wineries, but there's not too much "inside info" available to us folks living in "fly over" country.
Snooth: Do you have any professional background in wine?
C.B. I have no professional background in wine but do, on occasion, work at a local wine store. For a few years I'd pour wine at their weekly wine tastings, talk about the wines and wine in general. I still work a Saturday or two a month providing the assistance I wish we had when we were starting out on our wine-loving journey.
Snooth: What is your favorite wine region and why?
C.B. This is a very tough question for me, I love just about every style of wine. I'd have to say my favorite region is California because of the diversity of the wine the state produces. I love France's Rhone region but they don't produce Cabernets, same goes for the lack of Grenache and Syrah wines from Bordeaux.
If I am locked into one specific region in California, I'd have to say the Central Coast with Paso Robles on the top of the list. The wines they produce based on the Rhone grapes are top notch and their whites and Cabernet based wines are improving as they gain more experience with the grapes.
Snooth: Desert Island wine? You have to drink it for the rest of your life so let us know why this is your choice.
C.B. Another tough question, but I'd opt for German Riesling. These wines are very versatile and pair nicely with a wide range of food or can be easily enjoyed on their own.
Snooth: Would you characterize your palate as new world, old world, or something in between? Why?
C.B. I'm definitely "in between". I can enjoy an aged Bordeaux one night, a fruit bomb Aussie Shiraz the next and a 25 year old German Riesling the next night. I do drink more new world wines but that is driven by the mailing lists I am on, the limited availability of some old world wines in the area where I live and most importantly, my wife's palate. Even though she enjoys an aged Barbaresco or Northern Rhone wine, I know she prefers the new world style.
Snooth: What do you think of wine writing today? What do you like about it and what would you like to change?
C.B. I think the wine writing of today has improved tremendously over where it was a decade ago. There are so many sites and bloggers out there you can always find information and opinions to consume. As with most things, you just have to be careful to not put too much faith into a site until you can fully absorb their "reason to exist". Some sites exist only to make money or to get "free wine". If a site only reviews wine samples, it makes it hard to to separate their real opinions and their desire to make their providers happy so they get more free stuff. I review wine samples, but they are a very small percentage of the wines I drink and write about on a weekly basis.
I have to add, I am turned off by the wine writers whose sole purpose is to trash other people just because the other person is more famous, successful or controversial. I know there are people who don't like some of the figures involved in the large national wine publications, get over it.
Snooth: What wine do you look forward to trying each year?
C.B. This is actually a pretty easy question. Every year I look forward to the new Rosé wines. Even though I like the pink stuff, I like these because it means Spring is just around the corner and the bitter cold Winter is just about over. If I had to pick one specific wine, it would be the Bedrock Ode to Lulu Old Vine Rosé because this is one I buy every year and they ship the wine just as our weather begins to thaw out.
Snooth: What wine do you just not seem to like? Why?
C.B. If anyone does not know my answer to this question, they don't know me. Many years ago we drank a good amount of Merlot based wines and loved them. Unfortunately a lot of other people shared my opinion. Wineries took note and greatly upped their production. This increased production came from planting the grape in less than acceptable locations and over cropping. This lead to a lot of the lower to mid end Merlot wines losing the character that made them popular. Instead of nice fruit and spice with moderate tannins and good acidity the wines became off-dry grape juice with no tannins, soft acidity and green notes from under ripe fruit. I know there are still spectacular Merlot wines out there, but they are few and far between. I look forward to being able to grab an under $20 Merlot off a store's shelf and not having to dump a fair amount down the drain.
Snooth: Recommend three wines, a red, a white, and a rose that will tell our audience the most about your palate, your likes, and your dislikes and please share a few of those likes and dislikes.
C.B. Another next to impossible answer question. For my likes, I will list a specific wine but for my dislikes, I will simply supply the style and characteristics.
White - like
German Riesling, preferably one with several years of cellar age. The wines from the early to mid 1990s are drinking wonderfully right now. If you opt for a younger vintage, look for a Kabinett. These wines usually show crisp acidity and have enough sweetness to keep the wine nicely balanced. A couple great producers are Markus Molitor and Prüm.
White - dislike
I like unoaked Chardonnay wines but have a deep dislike for the full blown "California style". This style of wine is generally loaded with spicy new oak and buttery richness. I like to taste the fruit instead of all the winemaker added "flavorings".
Rosé - like
I like my Rosé wines to be crisp with nice fruit and spice. I prefer completely dry but a touch of residual sweetness generally adds a touch of depth and richness. There are numerous domestic and imported options, generally in the $10 to $25 range. Look for something from Tavel, in France's Southern Rhone region. On the domestic side, I like the offerings from Bedrock and Villa Creek. All of my choices are made from the Rhone grapes, but good dry Rosé wines can be made from just about any red grape.
Rosé - dislike
White Zinfandel, do I really need to add anything? Well, actually I do, there are some nice dry White Zins out there and they can be very nice. Even though a touch of residual sugar isn't a problem, I can not drink a soft and syrupy sweet version.
Red - like
This is a wide open category for me, I love the wines from both the Northern and Southern Rhone, Napa Cabs, Sonoma Zinfandels, Pinot Noir wines from Oregon and just about everything from Paso Robles. Since it's grilling season around here, I'll opt for a wine that goes perfectly with just about anything off the grill. France's Southern Rhone is a large area but for me, one of its smaller regions, Vacqueyras, has always been a personal favorite. To me, these wines are a nice step up from a standard Cotes du Rhone wine, but are generally not too much more expensive. These wines are generally grenache based but usually also include some syrah, mourvedre, cinsault or other Rhone grape in the blend. A personal favorite is the Domaine La Garrigue Vacqueyras which can be found for under $20.
Red - dislike
Again, I will stick with style instead of a specific wine. There are a few characteristics that are sometimes in a red wine that totally turn me off. Green flavors in a red wine, especially bell pepper or jalapeno will turn a glass of red wine into drain cleaner very quickly unless it is the more herbal green notes in Cabernet Franc wines from France's Loire region. Red wines that are thin and diluted from over cropping or with considerable residual sugar will also find their way to the local waste water treatment facility.