Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Kirkland Brand Wine... what?!?

I love Costco. I do. But when Mr. Purple first brought home a bottle of Kirkland brand Chateauneuf-du-pape, I will admit I told him to save the Kirkland brand for diapers.  And we don't even buy diapers anymore.  Not that I'm a brand snob... really.  Its just that I don't associate fine wine with the Kirkland brand.  And I now stand corrected.

Before I review tasting notes though, one of the best parts of drinking Chateauneuf-du-pape is just saying the name. Since I'm not familiar with how to add sound to blogs, I'll do my best at spelling it phonetically.  Shat-a-NOOF-de-pop.  And if you say it with your best French accent, it sounds even better.

Chateauneuf-du-pape is the name of an appellation in the southern region of France in the Rhone Valley.  Wines with that designation are blended red wine and thirteen varietals of grapes are allowed - with the predominant varietal being Grenache, followed by Syrah and Mourvedre (see my earlier blog post about Mourvedre). Kirkland's brand is estate grown at Domaine de Nalys, one of the oldest domaines and has been around since 1778.

The color is deep ruby red with a nose of berries and spices. Like most wine from this area of the world, the taste is much more earthy than fruity, although I did get hints of cranberry and spice.  This wine is definitely young and could stand to age a few years.  Not a bad buy though for $19.95.  And, it comes with the added bonus of impressing your friends with your knowledge and pronunciation of French wines.  As long as they can look past the fact that their wine may share the same brand as their toilet paper.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I'm back... after much too long!

I'm back.  And while I could bore you with my lengthy list of reasons for taking a break, it really isn't important.  What is important is that I'm still drinking and making wine.  And I have a lot to catch up on.

In honor of the Tuesday after "the first weekend of summer", I'm reviewing two of my favorite Sauvignon Blancs.  For those of you who know Purple Girl personally, you know I'm pretty much a red wine drinker.  (Hence the name Purple Girl). But there is honestly nothing quite like a cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc on a warm summer day.  So, cheers to the beginning of summer.

Oyster Bay
Mr. Purple picked up this little gem at the grocery store for less than $10.  This New Zealand wine is crisp, refreshing, has a lot of great citrus flavor as well as hints of coconut.  Although that coconut part may just be my wishful thinking of being somewhere tropical.  Oyster Bay is sure to be a crowd pleaser so a great buy for a backyard BBQ with friends.

Another great Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, Cupcake is bursting with citrus flavor (does that sound like a Starburst commercial?).  Cupcake is pale yellow to greenish in color, crisp and seems to stay cool in the glass long after it is poured.  It retails for around $11 per bottle but if you watch for specials, you can generally get it for less.  I picked it up at Fred Meyer the other day for $8.99!

Now, its no coincidence that both of these wines come from New Zealand.  NZ proudly boasts that they make some of the best sauvignon blanc in the world.  This is largely due to their ideal growing conditions for the sauvignon blanc grape - cooler summers and milder winters coupled with stony, mineral filled soil.  The vines have to work hard for their nutrients so when they get them, they put them right into the grapes.  So, it got me to thinking.  Where else do we have cooler summers and milder winters with less than hospitable soil?  Feels like that might be my own backyard here in Western Washington.  My next task... research Washington Sauvignon Blanc (and by research I mean taste).  Anyone out there have recommendations?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

And we're off!

Well, today was the day - the big yeast inoculation! It was actually supposed to be last night but, alas, we ran into a few unexpected problems and had to delay until 5:00 a.m. this morning.  Yes, that's right! 5:00 a.m.  But, as Mr. Purple says, "Wine making ain't easy".

We began last night taking some initial measurements.  The first was temperature, which measured at approximately 60 degrees.  Good for taking the rest of the necessary measurements (as my instruments don't need correction at 60 degrees).  Bad for starting fermentation... which requires a must temperature of around 70 degrees.  Road block #1 for the night - need to quickly warm 150 pounds of smooshed grapes up 10 degrees.  Sadly, my microwave isn't big enough.  Moving on... Brix.  I covered Brix in an earlier post but as a quick refresher, Brix is the measurement used to express the sugar content of the juice.  There are lots of ways to measure Brix but the easiest and most cost effective way for home winemakers is by using a hydrometer.

You simply get a large plastic graduated cylinder, fill it 3/4 of the way with the liquid you are measuring and insert the hydrometer.  It will float and you read the Brix reading from where the top of the liquid falls on the stick.  Our Syrah reading was 19.5 and the Sangiovese was about 17.  Ideal is 22 - 23.  I took my readings, recorded them, washed of my hydrometer and then promptly dropped it on my tile floor.  Note: glass and tile aren't friends....road block #2. Rest in peace hydrometer.

Next, we measured the acidity level of the wine.  Acidity is an important element in wine balance as well as the preservation of wine.  Too much acidity results in a tart taste that reduces drinking pleasure.  Too little acidity and the wine will taste flat.  There are ways to adjust acid levels in the wine, hence the reason to test for it up front. You can buy kits that test for total acidity for a reasonable price.  After a quick lesson in titration and a flash back to Organic Chemistry from college, we calculated our values at 0.8% TA for both wines.  Ideal is 0.7%.  Only a little off so we opted to proceed with fermentation and watch the values over the next couple of weeks.

Finally, it was time.  I removed the liquid gold (aka yeast) from the refrigerator and read the directions just for good measure. 

And.... road block #3.  The yeast is supposed to warm up for 3-6 hours before adding it to the wine.  Back in the fridge it went until 11:00 p.m.  And that's how you get to a 5:00 a.m. yeast inoculation.

All is well though, the extra time allowed us to crank up the heat in the house and move the fermenters into the tiny powder room that gets wicked hot with the door closed.  By 5:00 a.m., the must had reached 68 degrees.  Close enough.  In addition to the yeast, we also added yeast nutrients.  Wine grapes from Washington state are generally deficient in nitrogen, a key element in the fermentation process.  Yeast nutrients ensure that the yeast has enough nutrients present to carry out a successful fermentation.

And we're off... fermentation should begin in the next 12 - 18 hours and continue for the next several days.  Purple Girl's house is about to start smelling like a winery.  Yum!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday Night Update

Before I delve too far into the wine making process, I must give a shout out to the book Techniques in Home Winemaking by Daniel Pambianchi.  Winemaking on a nano scale is much different than the way the big guys do it and Daniel's book is not only a great guide but also very educational for the beginning wine maker.  If you are at all interested in making wine yourself, I highly recommend this book.  It is also important to point out that the process I'll be following is the general process for making red wine.  I haven't been brave enough to try white varietals yet... maybe a 2012 Purple Girl vintage?  At any rate, some of the steps I'll be following are only applicable to red varietals.  The first of these processes? Maceration.

Maceration is the process where the phenolic materials of the grape (that is the tannins, coloring agents and flavor compounds) are leached from the skins, seeds and stems into the must. Another wine term... must. Must is the juice of the grape before it has been fermented.  So, in simple terms - maceration is letting the  smooshed up grapes sit for a period of time. ("Smooshed up" is a Purple Girl technical term).  This process is what gives red wine its color since red wine grape juice is actually fairly grayish in color.  There are many, many different strategies on how to conduct maceration.  One strategy we are trying out this year is called cold soak maceration.  Technically, this is supposed to be carried out for several days to a week.  We are going to give it a couple of days since we aren't on our own pressing schedule.  And technically the must should be refrigerated to 46 degrees or lower.  We're just taking advantage of the bitter cold temperatures of my garage... which at the moment feels like it is a cousin to the Arctic.

This afternoon after we got the grapes home, we added 1.5 teaspoons of pectic enzyme to each 75 pounds of grapes. Pectic enzyme breaks down the pectins that occur naturally in the fruit.  That same pectin is often responsible for cloudiness in wine... not a desirable trait in even the cheapest wines.  The other side benefit to adding pectin is that we should get a higher volume of free-run juice at press.  (I'll go into free-run juice more in a later post but more free-run juice is a good thing).

After letting the pectic enzyme do its thing for four hours, we then added Potassium Metabisulfite (or KMS).  There are many reasons to add KMS. The first is to take care of the very unwelcome wild yeast that occurs naturally on most wine grapes.  Left to their own devices, these wild yeasts will take over and can result in some very unpleasant tasting wine.  Trust me... I did not know about adding KMS the first year I made wine and it is not something I'd like to taste again.  KMS effectively kills these wild yeast organisms resulting in a "clean slate" for our carefully chosen wine yeast we'll inoculate with later.  Second, KMS reacts during fermentation to become sulfur dioxide and is in both free and bound form.  Don't cringe... not taking you back to chemistry class entirely.  Free SO2 is important because it basically acts as a preservative. Without it, the wine is more susceptible to oxidation and formation of acetaldehyde.  To remind yourself of the unpleasant properties of acetaldehye, leave a glass of wine on the counter overnight and take a big wiff the next day.  You'll learn to appreciate sulfur dioxide's role in protecting wine during the winemaking process.

That's all for tonight... stay tuned for the big yeast inoculation.  Where the magic begins!

Grape Crush 2011

After a brief break from blogging, I'm back! And just in time for a very special day... Grape Crush.  Thanks to those of you who voted for the varietal you'd like to see made this year.  The winner was Syrah! Mr. Purple is also giving wine making a go this year and his grape of choice was Sangiovese.  Over the next several months, I'll walk you through the process of home winemaking with details that hopefully inspire you to give winemaking a try yourself.

First order of business was to order the grapes themselves.  I'm sure there are plenty of options out there, but I have had great luck ordering grapes from Mountain Homebrew and Wine Supply in Kirkland.  They offer a one stop shop for wine making ingredients and equipment.  They also purchase grapes from a grower in Eastern Washington and resell them in 25 pound increments.  Sure, the prices per pound are higher than if you were to buy them direct.  But, for amateur wine makers like Purple Girl, there aren't many places out there that sell grapes in such small lots.  And, for 10 cents more per pound, you have access to their Crusher/Destemmer and Press, which are spendy pieces of equipment for hobby winemakers like myself.  About 6 weeks ago, we purchased 75 pounds of Sangiovese grapes and 75 pounds of Syrah grapes and have been waiting patiently for the grapes to ripen enough for harvest.  Halloween Night - we got the call.  Grapes were ready and being harvested on Thursday, 11/3.  This is a fairly late harvest (typically early to mid October) and unfortunately, the sugar levels in the grapes were still not completely ideal.  But, winter is approaching quickly and frost is not a friend to wine grapes so it was time for them to come off the vine.

Some basics... glucose and fructose are the main fermentable sugars in grapes.  Yeast feeds on these sugars to produce ethanol (or alcohol) and carbon dioxide.  This process is called fermentation. So, the amount of sugar present at the time of fermentation is critical... not enough and the wine doesn't get to ideal alcohol levels, too much and fermentation might be hard to start as too much sugar can shock the yeast. The most common way to measure sugar in grape must is by using a hydrometer to calculate the Brix.  Ideal Brix for red wines at harvest is 22 - 23.  About one week before harvest, our grapes measured 18.9 for the Sangiovese and 20.5 for the Syrah.  Again... not ideal but easier to add sugar to the process later than to deal with rotten, frozen grapes.

Day of Crush - we brought two 12 gallon food grade containers to the crushing location, each one sufficient to hold 75 pounds of crushed grapes.  The containers were cleaned thoroughly prior to crush and then rinsed with a sanitzing solution provided by Mountain Homebrew. (You can also make this solution with potassium metabisulfite).  First step - grapes are added to the Crusher/Destemmer.  While a few stems present during fermentation aren't damaging, stems are high in tannin and too many can increase pH and thereby reducing color intensity and fruitiness in the finished wine.  Here are the grapes before going through the Crusher/Destemmer

And here they are on their way out

The process is pretty simple, especially for such a small quantity.  Total crushing time took us about 10 minutes and that was including clean up.  Grapes were loaded in the car and off to their next step in the journey to become wine.  The next 10 days are critical for these grapes... stay tuned for tonight's activities.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Grape of the Month - Mourvedre

I'm going to try a new segment here on Journey of a Purple Girl... Grape of the Month and am going to kick it off with the Mourvedre grape.  Mourvedre is a little known grape traditionally from Spain and pronounced "moo-VE-dra".  Although I'm sure the French and Spanish make it sound much more lovely.  I was first introduced to this varietal during my last Enology weekend course in Pullman on the Washington State University campus.  (Side note, a tough trip to make for this die-hard Husky).  After a full day of class and lab work, we went as a group down to Merry Cellars, where we were treated to a personal tour from the winemaker and fellow alum, Patrick Merry.  It was hard to find a wine at Merry Cellars that I didn't like but my personal favorite of the day was their 2007 Mourvedre-Syrah.  What struck me most and what I still remember after three years was the deep, intense purple color of the wine.  It was like nothing I've ever seen before and I'm not sure I've seen it since. The velvety mouthfeel coupled with the plum and mocha flavor made this truly a memorable wine.  The composition of the wine is 50.5% Mourvedre grape and 49.5% Syrah.  And so it got me to thinking, what is so special about the Mourvedre grape and why don't more wine makers use it?

Mourvedre grapes on their own tend to create deep colored wine that is high in tannins and alcohol and have a spicey or gamey aroma.  Not generally characteristics most people enjoy in wine.  Blended with another variety though and the color of the wine is intensified and structure is enhanced.  Some of Mourvedre's favorite partners are Syrah and Grenache.  This grape is gaining appeal and there are nearly 1000 acres of Mourvedre grapes growing in both California and Eastern Washington today.  If only I could get my hands on some to blend with my Syrah.... So next time you see a wine with Mourvedre as part of the composition, give it a try.  You'll be able to share the little known secret of the Mourvedre grape with all of your friends.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Time to Order Grapes

Its that time of year... the days are getting shorter, the leaves are starting to change color and there is a noticeable chill in the air.  That also means that grape harvest is right around the corner. 

Purple Girl doesn't just drink wine... I make it too.  I'm a certified Enologist and dabble in the art of making wine.  I'll admit that I haven't been wildly successful (yet).  And those friends of mine who have politely accepted a bottle of a past vintage - best advice is to leave it in the bottle.  But, after taking a year off, its time to give it a go again.  Mr. Purple wants in on the fun this time too.  So, I need your help and am taking requests...  Should I make Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, or Syrah? Vote now using the polling buttons on the right hand side of your screen and follow Purple Girl on her wine making adventures this fall.