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.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Big Ol' Bottles of Wine

BBQs at Purple Mom and Purple Dad's house always give a good reason to blog.  The one we had most recently to celebrate the final push of summer provided another great wine topic - wine bottle size.

But first, I must give a shout out to the Sauvignon Blanc of the evening.  As I've said before, not much is better than an ice cold Sauvignon Blanc on a hot summer day. And the same holds true for the Sauvignon Blanc from Cupcake Vineyards. This bottle retails for $9 - $10. The grassy nose leads to a clean, crisp and citrus taste.  A great buy for the money!

I have so much to say about DeLille Cellars as it is one of my favorite Washington wineries.  Trying to stick with the theme of bottle size so I'll keep the D2 tasting notes short and save the topic of DeLille for a future blog.  D2 is a blend of 41% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot.  The 2004 vintage has a nose of oak and berry and cherries and blackberries dominate the lengthy finish.  The velvety Merlot like mouth feel and fruit forward taste put D2 high up in the ranks of Purple Girl's favorites.

Now more about bottles... so, why buy a large-format bottle anyway?  First of all, it certainly makes an impression on those who are lucky enough to share the bottle.  There is something special about seeing a bottle that you can't find in your local grocery store.  But, for Purple Girl and most wine connoisseurs out there, having a large-format bottle is not all about image.  Since the ratio of air to liquid is lower in large-format bottles, these large vessels are superior to their "standard" counterparts in maturing wine as it allows the wine to age more slowly.  This particular bottle (shown above) is a Magnum, which is 1.5 liters of wine and is the equivalent of two standard bottles.

Now for the big kahuna of the evening... the Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico.  This Reserve from 2003 made its home in a Double Magnum bottle, which is 3 liters of liquid and the equivalent to four standard bottles of wine.  (As an aside, 3 liters of sparkling wine is called a Jeroboam).  This Chianti is medium bodied and tastes of cherries, vanilla and has hints of smoke flavor.  And the structure of the wine held up nicely in the large format bottle.

In case you are interested, the largest wine bottle is called the Sovereign and is the equivalent of a whopping 34 standard bottles.  Probably would take a fork lift to get it on the table.  Following behind is the Melchior (24 bottles), Nebuchadnezzar (20 bottles and don't ask me how to pronounce it), Balthazar (16 bottles), Salmanazar (12 bottles), Imperial (8 bottles), Jeroboam (6 bottles of still wine), and then the Double Magnum and Magnum discussed above.  No one is really sure why larger format bottles were given biblical names.  The earliest recorded use of a biblical name for these bottles was in 1725 when the Jeroboam was named after the biblical founder of Israel because he was referred to as a "a man of great worth", as were large sized bottles.  The largest bottle I've ever had the privilege to drink out of was an Imperial.  Quite impressive to say the least.

So there you have it, your lesson in wine bottles.  Go for the Magnum next time - you'll be glad you did!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

So Many Reasons to Love Purple

Besides being an avid wine connoisseur, I'm also a die hard University of Washington Husky fan.  For those of you not from the Seattle area, UW colors are Purple and Gold... or "Go Purple, Be Gold" as the saying goes.  There's really no better time of year to be a Husky alumni than the fall when Husky football season swings back into full gear.  Especially when you are friends with THE Purple Tailgater... well known for his ability to organize a great tailgate party.  I never imagined having so much fun in a parking lot until I tailgated with the Purple Tailgater.  Needless to say, this Purple Girl is happy when drinking or wearing purple... the two together is darn near perfect.

Seeing as this is a wine blog, I attempted to stay true to form for the tailgate and chose wine as my beverage of choice.  Seattle is experiencing record breaking warm temperatures this September so I opted for some ice cold Sauvignon Blanc - one of my favorites on a hot summer day!

First up, Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010.  This is one of my staples in the summertime.  A bottles retails for around $13 and can be found at most major grocery stores and is often at Costco.

Like many great sauvignon blancs, Kim Crawford is located in New Zealand.  Their early roots trace back to a small cottage in Auckland where they got their start in 1996.  Sauvignon Blanc comes from the French word sauvage (meaning "wild") and blanc (meaning "white").  Most sauvignon blancs are known for their distinct and intense aromas and can range in taste from grassy to fruity.  What I love about Kim Crawford's sauvignon blanc is the ever-present citrus flavors and the fresh and lingering finish.  Taking a sip is almost like taking a little Hawaiian vacation, which is a nice treat while hanging out in a steaming hot parking lot.

Before I review the next wine, I feel compelled to say that we tailgated for SIX hours... hence the reason for the second bottle.  I was with Purple Tailgater and all.  And, I had some help on the second bottle.  No need to send me to rehab.

Okay... next up... Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc 2010.  Also from the Marlborough region of New Zealand (sense a theme here?), this wine pairs well with hot temperatures.  Its strong citrus flavors are similar to Kim Crawford but the Nobilo is drier and crisper in comparison.  Wine Spectator magazine describes it as having a "laser beam of lemon, lime, grapefruit and apricot flavors".  If you aren't sure what a laser beam of flavor tastes like, Nobilo is a must add to your list.  Another great bonus, it retails for around $10 and, if you are lucky, you can find it on sale for even less. 

All in all, it was great to be back at Husky Stadium cheering on my Huskies.  They even eeked out a 30-27 win for the first game of the year.  Hopefully a trend that continues on this season.

Until the next tailgate... Go Dawgs!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Heart of Rock and Roll

Huey Lewis and the News + wine from Chateau Ste Michelle + a perfect 80 degree day in Seattle = one very happy Purple Girl. 

Purple Dad and Purple Mom gave me tickets to Huey Lewis for my 29th (plus some change) birthday last May.  And while late August days are generally pretty fantastic around here, it was hard to be sure of the weather this record breaking cold summer.  Needless to say, the crowd packed into the amphitheater at Chateau Ste Michelle was very appreciative of one of those "perfect Seattle weather days" - 80 degrees and not a cloud in the sky.  If you've never been to a concert at Chateau Ste Michelle, it is a must add to your "bucket list".  There is something about the fresh air and beautiful scenery that, on its own, would make for a great evening.  Add some tunes, good wine and a picnic and it becomes unforgettable.

Mr. Purple and I pre-funked by belting out Huey hits in the car on the way to the concert. (Did that just give away that there's becoming a lot of change after my 29?)  Once we were happily in our seats with Purple Dad and Purple Mom, we really got the party started with some cheese, crackers and a 2010 Chateau Ste Michelle Sauvignon Blanc from Horse Heaven Hills.  And therein lies another one of the beauties of a concert at a winery... the ability to enjoy wine while in the venue (as long as it is from that winery of course).

This sauvignon blanc from Chateau Ste Michelle is perfect for a hot summer afternoon - cool, crisp and full of grapefruit.  The only drawback is that it is so darn drinkable, it goes down a little too easily and a couple of bottles were empty before we knew it.

As the sun went down, we moved on to a 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Canoe Ridge Estates. This cab from the Canoe Ridge Estates is a subtle Washington cabernet, rich with dark cherry flavors with a hint of spice.  Its smooth, warm texture was a perfect compliment to the dark chocolate I brought as an after dinner treat. 

All in all, it was a great night.  And, after all these years, Huey still has his groove.  Not bad for 61 years old.  Proof positive that the Heart of Rock and Roll is still beating... (in Cleveland).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bachelorette Wine Tasting in Yakima Valley

The "big day" is just around the corner for Purple Girl's friends, Nicole and Joel (henceforth known as Purple Bride and Purple Groom). And with pre-wedding festivities in full swing, it was time to head over to the Yakima Valley to do some wine tasting for Purple Bride's bachelorette party.  The theme of the weekend was "start classy, end trashy" and we did just that in our visits to Zillah area wineries... well, at least the "start classy" part.  So, without further ado, here are my reviews of the five wineries we visited.

First up... Portteus Winery.  If you didn't know it already, Washington has over 600 bonded wineries to date and is the second largest producer of wine in the United States, second only to California.  So, it is no small thing that Portteus Winery, founded in 1981 was the 13th bonded winery in the state and continues to thrive today.  They were also pioneers in the Yakima Valley, which was home to only a handful of other vineyards at the time of their first vintage.

It is safe to stay that the staff at Portteus was among the nicest of the groups we visited.  Not sure bachelorette parties have the best reputation with wineries in any area and yet they were accommodating and gracious from the moment we walked in the door.  Portteus has a wide selection of wines in a variety of price ranges yet even their most expensive wine only retails in the mid $30 range.  They state on their website that "when the economy is good, they make lovely chic wines and when the economy is bad, they make lovely cheap wines."  My personal favorite was the Purple Haze - a red blend of 50% Sangiovese and 50% Petite Syrah - and retails for about $30.  

Silver Lake. Silver Lake is a well known label in Washington State with tasting rooms in both Woodinville and Zillah.  They have been making wine since 1989 and have grown to over 50,000 cases annually.  While there are many pros to tasting and buying wine from a big name establishment like Silver Lake, it is not my personal preference.  The staff in the tasting room in Zillah operate like a big name winery and I didn't feel the personal connection I feel in small boutique establishments.  They are also the only winery we visited that had a tasting fee for even the non-reserve product.  That being said, I am a big fan of the new Girlie Girl label available for purchase in this tasting room.  The design of the bottle is fun, the wine is drinkable and reasonably priced, and some of the proceeds benefit breast cancer research - a winner all around.  I'm now the proud owner of the Girlie Girl Merlot (also named "Kayla"), meant for girls who love adventure and travel.  Sounds like a good match for this Purple Girl.

Cultura.  Hands down, Cultura was my favorite winery on this trip!  It wasn't originally on our planned tour, but a nice couple at Silver Lake insisted that it was worth the change in plans and boy were they right.  Unlike the first two wineries we visited, Cultura is a relatively new winery and has only been in business since 2005.  The owners, Tad and Sarah Fewel, do all of the work themselves and made roughly 600 cases of wine in 2010.

Cultura's wine is smooth, full of fruit and has long and lingering finishes.  They only make reds and, after tasting every varietal they make, I can't say there is one in the bunch I wouldn't want to own.  I settled on three - Merlot and two different Cabs.  It is easy to pass the time in their classic and charming tasting room.  Pair that with Tad and Sarah's friendly nature while tasting their fabulous wines and you have the perfect recipe for a happy afternoon.

Two Mountain. Another great winery - rates second on Purple Girl's list for the afternoon.  Founded in 2002 by brothers Matthew and Patrick Rawn, Two Mountain has a wide variety of wines, including Reisling and Chardonnay, and harvest most of their grapes from their own Copeland Vineyard.

In addition to Two Mountain's delicious selection of wines, they also have an interesting crew of characters (aka dogs) lounging around the tasting room.  These funny companions enjoy spending the hot Yakima afternoons on the cool concrete floors.  My favorite canine was a yellow lab named Gus who took a special liking to Purple Bride.  Apparently Gus enjoys being the center of attention and will happily roll over for a belly rub.  He adored the rubs from Purple Bride so much that he would bark when she stopped giving her affection.  Purple Groom may have some competition.

Bonair Winery. Bonair was established in 1985 and is a well known presence in the Yakima Valley.  Owned and operated by husband and wife team, Shirley and Gail Puryear, Bonair is a breathtaking location to visit.  Even better, Shirley is engaging, entertaining and full of marital wisdom that she eagerly shared with Purple Bride.  In fairness to Bonair, they were the last stop after a great deal of consumption.  I skipped several of the tastes offered to save myself from a purple hangover.  They did, however, offer a unique and memorable experience for Purple Bride, complete with a serenade from Slava, the Serbian farmhand armed with a guitar and a charming smile.

And that wraps up a fun filled adventure in wine tasting.  There were many more great memories as the evening wore on but those moments probably not fitting for a "classy" blog such as this one. Congratulations to Purple Bride and Purple Groom!!  And remember, "whatever you have, own it!"

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Viva Las Vegas!

I know they say that "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" but that wouldn't make this blog any fun, now would it?  An unseasonably cool summer in Seattle sent Purple Girl and Mr. Purple packing for the desert.  While the rest of the world avoids Vegas in August, we jumped at the chance to bask in the blazing heat for a belated anniversary celebration.  Besides relaxing by the pool, playing some not so lucky hands at blackjack and seeing Le Reve (the Wynn's amazing acrobatic water show), we also had the chance to enjoy some wine.  Would you expect any less from Purple Girl?

Night one: Tapas and wine at La Cave - Wynn Las Vegas.  La Cave could be a blog post in and of itself.  La Cave is located in the Wynn and its trendy yet cozy atmosphere lends itself to the perfectly indulgent date night (or girls/guys night out if that's what brings you to Vegas).  The sun was setting while we there and the view overlooking the pool was amazing.  They are well known for their extensive wine list and small, but savory, plates. We enjoyed the salmon sashimi won tons (yes, we were brave with the raw fish) and the steak and blue cheese flatbread.  Safe to say that not a single morsel stayed on the plate. 

Wine was a bit tougher since eating establishments on the The Strip can get away with significant mark ups.  For those lucky people who were able to "win big", there were bottles of wine in the $4,000 range!! Sadly, the Purple's weren't that lucky so we opted for one of the "budget" wines - Tobin James, James Gang Reserve, 2007 Zinfandel from Paso Robles.  This great bottle of wine retails for $28... any takers on guessing what we paid for it?

Zinfandel is not always the most popular choice on the wine list but we had faith in a good Zin from Paso Robles. Paso Robles is one of the largest AVA's in San Luis Obispo County (I sure do love saying San Luis Obispo).  The Santa Lucia mountain range to its east shelters much of Paso Robles from coastal influences.  The first grapes were planted here in the late 18th century by Spanish missionaries.  Its warmer climate lends itself to rich and full-bodied wines like Zinfandels.

If I could give a one word adjective to the James Gang Reserve from Tobin James, I'd call it sassy.  As with most Zinfandels, this wine is not for the amateur wine connoisseur.  I've never particularly understood what it means when wine reviewers call a wine "jammy" until I tried the James Gang Reserve. The spicy and fruity aromas coupled with the strong, velvety raspberry taste make this wine a winner.  The spicy and peppery finish lasts a long time and reminds you that are drinking a Zin.  Highly recommended and I only hope I'm lucky enough to cross paths with this wine again.

Night Two: Dinner at Botero - Encore Las Vegas. I was not looking forward to the day I had to give a not so stellar review, but here we are in only post #7 of this blog.  Sure, I could sugar coat my experiences but that wouldn't really help out my fellow foodies and wine snobs out there.  Honesty wins out over being polite this time, so here goes my review.

Botero at the Encore Las Vegas has a lot of potential but doesn't necessarily deliver.  I'll admit I had a little sticker shock when I first saw the menu out front but the advertisement for their "Taste of Wynn" special convinced Mr. Purple and I to make a reservation for our belated anniversary dinner.  They were advertising a pre-fix, 3-course menu for $55/person.... not a bad deal when every option sounded fantastic.  Sadly, when we were seated shortly after 7:00 p.m., we were told the "Taste of Wynn" ended at 7:00 p.m. so were forced to order off the regular menu.  (That little caveat was not well displayed on their well marketed advertisement).   Well, you only live once right?  So, we sucked it up, dusted off our disappointment and ordered off the regular menu (I'm still gasping). The wedge salad was terrible (who can mess up a wedge salad?) and the main course of halibut was very average, at best.  If I would have paid $15/plate, I might not be so critical.  But triple that (at least) and you don't get by this Purple Girl easily. Now to the wine....

Given our <mildly surprised> reaction to the menu options, we opted to go for the safe bet and ordered a pinot from Patricia Green Cellars.  Patricia Green Cellars, located in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, is also a wonderful place to visit.  We were first introduced to her wines when we enjoyed her signature pinot specially made for the Herb Farm in Woodinville, Le Herb Savage.  Patricia Green Cellars specializes in pinots for all different tastes... hard to be disappointed after a visit to her winery.

We ordered her Pinot Noir from the Balcombe Vineyards, which according to her blog, is one of the best vineyards they work with.  The location on the top of the Dundee Hills lends itself to intense and rich pinot noirs and the 2009 vintage was no exception.  This bottle retails for around $36/bottle... sadly not the bargain you can get on the strip.  Believe it or not, we found this bottle located in the "Value" section of the wine list (I mean book).  Patricia chose to ferment this wine in whole clusters which is the reason for this wine's bold, tannin flavors.  I'll tackle fermenting in a future blog but, long story short, the skins, seeds and stems hold the majority of the tannins.  The longer those items hang with the fermenting fruit, the more tannins you'll find in the finished wine.  That's good if you want a wine to age well and stand the test of time... but if you are drinking that same wine two years after it was harvested off the vine, consider yourself warned.  You'll understand quickly what it means for a wine to be "young".  After some lengthy time in the glass and this wine opened up nicely to a classic cherry rich Pinot with hints of vanilla.  Easy to tell this will be a winner 5 - 7 years from now.

In fairness to Botero, they did have quite possibly the best dessert I've ever had the pleasure to enjoy - Smore's Brioche Doughnuts. If I could give my honest opinion, enjoy wine and food at La Cave and make the short trek to a new venue for dessert at Botero.  The two combined would ensure a perfectly wonderful evening.

And there you have it, the Purple's experience with the wine side of Vegas.  Adventures in downtown Las Vegas and the "scenery" at the European pool are best shared in person over another fine wine in the future.


Pre-Vacay Pinot

There's really no better way to get ready for vacation than to enjoy some good wine.  And that's precisely what we did the night before our big trip to Vegas.  Purple Mom and Purple Dad graciously offered to watch Purple Daughter and Purple Son for the weekend.  As we settled the kids in for their stay, we took a moment to enjoy another great Oregon pinot - Winter's Hill Reserve Pinot Noir 2005.

If you visit the Oregon Wine Country in the future, you would be missing out if you skipped Winter's Hill Vineyards. Located in the heart of Dundee Hills, Winter's Hill is neighbors with other prestigious vineyards such as Domaine Serene.  Dundee Hills, located about 30 miles southwest of Portland, OR, was the first region in the state to be planted with Pinot Noir grapes.  It is further inland than other growing regions which provide the grapes some respite from the Pacific Ocean's rain and wind.  The result? - warmer nights with less frost and Pinot Noir grapes love it!!

On past trips to Oregon Wine country, we've been lucky enough to meet Delphine, the winemaker, and her husband Russell.  Besides making great wines, they are also likeable and genuine people, which makes for a truly enjoyable visit.  Their location is beautiful and the rolling hills of the vineyard make for a pretty spectacular photo backdrop.  Now to the Reserve...

Winter's Hill Reserve delivers on Oregon's promise for the perfect Pinot.  The nose smells of spice and cherries and the color rich and ruby. I was overly anxious and took a sip too quick after opening the bottle.  Don't make that mistake as this wine this early in its life needs a bit to open up. After it does though, it is all cherries and raspberries with a long and smooth finish.  Pairing notes online suggest partnering it with chili con carne.... I personally think this wine stands best on its own.

Thanks Purple Mom and Dad for sharing this fabulous find from the Willamette Valley.  A perfect kickoff to a great vacation.  Up next... adventures in Vegas.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Must Have Basic

I can't drink wine all the time so I'll also use this blog to discuss other aspects of the wine industry, including accessories, literature, and places to buy and enjoy wine.

So, here is the first of my favorites and a basic that every wine connoisseur needs....

The folding stemware rack from IWA (International Wine Accessories). As an aside, if you love wine and don't have on your Internet favorites list, you should. It is THE place for buying hard to find, yet useful accessories.

This little gem is well used in my household as we absolutely do not put our wine glasses in the dishwasher under any circumstances. Riedel glasses are superb but very fragile, very expensive and don't find the inside of a dishwasher to be a hospitable place. 

This rack holds eight stem wine glasses at once and will even fit larger glasses such as burgundy or pinot glasses.  Rubber feet on the bottom prevent it from slipping on wet countertops which could result in (gasp!) disastrous consequences.  After the party is over, it easily folds up to be hidden away for another day.  It retails for $34.95 plus tax and shipping.  Might feel like a bit much for just a drying rack but you'll thank yourself in the long run... can't even count the number of glasses I've broken while attempting to hand dry them.

The countdown to Purple Girl's big trip to Vegas is on... T minus two days and counting.  Doing some research now to find the best wine bars on the strip, recommendations are welcome. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Purple Girl's Birthday

By popular demand (or at least a few demands), I've decided to "retroactively" post about my first experience with Owen Rowe Sharecroppers.  However, since my goal is to educate and not simply yammer on about my personal life, I'll take this opportunity to highlight DaVine Wine Bar in Maple Valley, Washington.

DaVine is located in Maple Valley, in the Wilderness Village shopping center.  Their slogan is that they "serve liquid memories" and after spending a few evenings there, I'd say their tag line holds true.  The owners and employees are warm and friendly, their menu reasonably priced and tasty, and the atmosphere is inviting.  They serve coffee in the morning, wine and beer in the evening and they frequently have special events such as wine tastings and live music.  With that being said, it seemed the perfect place for a glass of wine to celebrate my birthday.

In keeping with tradition, we decided to head out after Mother's Day Tea at Purple Son's preschool. I will admit that we had another birthday celebration planned for me the following weekend but given that my birthday either falls on or near Mother's Day every year, it seemed only fair to celebrate a few times.  As fate would have it, many of my Purple friends were busy that night so it left me, Manda, and a late arriving Melani to celebrate.

Late arriving is key to this story.  Manda and I picked out what is now a favorite - Owen Rowe's Sharecroppers.  You've seen the review in a recent post so I won't bore you with the details.  We also shared the Davine Trio - sun dried tomato hummus, artichoke spread, Parmesan-Romano dip coupled with bread and crackers.  Highly recommended for those of you local and able to enjoy DaVine sometime.  After an hour of fabulous conversation, good food and great wine, it seemed a shame for the night to end.  So after a quick text to Melani to confirm her anticipated arrival, we ordered a second bottle. 

Another hour of great conversation and our Purple friend was no where to be found.  And as the last drops of wine left the bottle, so did our plans for going home anytime soon.  All in all, it was a great night and probably many more hours of conversation than my poor friend Manda expected.  And, the next day, we were able to blame our unplanned headaches on our Purple friend Melani - who apparently fell asleep a wee bit early.

So here's a toast to DaVine... and just one of many liquid memories they served up that night!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Just Another Monday Night

Mr. Purple is such a wine snob that he felt compelled to pull out something special to commemorate my first blog post. And I quote, "you can't just blog about *#@! you can get at Costco".  And so a fabulous pinot noir came out of the wine "cellar" tonight.... Ken Wright Pinot Noir Savoya 2009.

This particular wine from Ken Wright retails for $58.  Quite a steal for such a fantastic wine.  But, the Purple's are cost conscious and with Purple Dad and Purple Mom's high recommendations coupled with Ken Wright's legendary status in the Willamette Valley, we decided to try our hand at futures.  What are wine futures you ask? It refers to buying wine after it is made but before it is bottled. During a late fall trip to the Willamette Valley in 2009, we were lucky enough to sample this particular wine out of the barrel. After a few arm twists (not really), we bought 3 bottles at about $30/bottle.

Two years later and this wine gives me something great to blog about.  The nose is subtle but inviting... hints of floral and raspberries. Purple Son (who is 5) thought is smelled "like wine".  Have I mentioned yet that he's brilliant?

2009 was also an interesting year in the Willamette Valley. Like Washington, Oregon experienced an unseasonably warm summer.  This, coupled with untimely September rain and uneven harvest temperatures, left many Oregon wine growers worried. (And thus buying this "future" was a bit of a risk)  Oregon wines are generally known for their delicacy, not power, and the 2009 vintage challenged that notion.  Ken Wright commented in Wine Spectator that he "was pleasantly surprised" by the vintage as they didn't exhibit "overripe flavors or overly soft textures".

Back to Savoya... Savoya Vineyard is the first vineyard directly owned and developed by Ken Wright Cellars and is located in the Yamill-Carlton district northeast of Carlton, Oregon. About 240 very special cases of wine are produced each year from this 4.5 acre vineyard.  The 2009 pinot is a beautifully smooth wine that tasted as much like cherry cola as any wine I've ever tasted.  The finish long, delicate and while not in tasting notes you'll find online, I find myself tasting peaches long after my last sip.

Needless to say, I'm very glad I still own two more bottles.  Two thumbs up from Purple Girl! 

Girls Night

Saturday, August 6, 2011 –
Manda’s birthday… what better reason to drink wine?  With only a days notice, the girls were able to clear their schedules to head down to our favorite local wine bar – DaVine.  Manda and I are good at celebrating birthdays at DaVine.  We had a great bottle of Owen Rowe’s Sharecropper’s Cabernet Sauvignon back in May for my birthday celebration.  It was an easy choice this time around and I was anxious to remember it well, knowing I was about to start this blog.
Owen Rowe Sharecropper’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
The grapes of this wine come from our beloved Columbia Valley in Washington, including Horse Heaven Hills, Walla Walla and Yakima Valley.  As a side note, 2009 was an extraordinary year for Washington wines as it was one of the hottest summers on record.  Fortunately for wine growers, temperatures backed off considerably in September so the fruit was able to stay on the vine a bit longer.  Still, however, it was one of the earliest harvests in decades, which ultimately became a blessing in disguise.  An unexpected frost on October 11th was damaging to those grapes that hadn’t yet made it off the vine.
Back to Sharecropper’s – a decent priced wine if you were to purchase it online (around $17/bottle).  At the wine bar it was a bit more but still reasonable.  The nose is sheer fruit – although I wish I could say I spent more time on the nose and admit that I was caught up in conversation. (I will get better at this – I promise.)  Plum and cranberry are what hit my tongue first followed by a lengthy finish – not something easily found in a cab this price.  Tasting notes online include anise and tobacco, which I personally did not taste much.  Fortunate considering licorice and tobacco are not my favorite flavors.
The group as a whole enjoyed it – so much so that we ordered a second bottle.  While the tannins aren’t overwhelming in this wine, it certainly does benefit from time in the glass.  (Don’t they all?)
DaVine was great but darkness and an increasing chill in the air sent our party packing for Purple Girl’s backyard where we enjoyed a bonfire made by Mr. Purple himself.  There we opened two good old standby’s found often in Purple Girl’s cellar. (In case you are wondering, I use the term cellar loosely to really mean wine fridge.)

Next up…
14 Hands Hot to Trot Red Blend
Another great red for the price, just $7.99 at Costco.  Hot to Trot is a red blend – predominantly merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and petit verdot.  Not overly complex but hints of blackberries upon first drink.  Bottom line: it is a great, smooth and easy to drink wine for the money. 

In all fairness to the evening, we did also drink CMS from Hedges… but a couple of bottles in and hours past my bedtime, I’ll admit that I was no longer “tasting” at my finest.  Since I drink CMS so often, I’ll save my review for a later post.


And so it begins..

I am “Purple Girl”.  Who is Purple Girl you ask?  I am a self-proclaimed wine nut and enjoy the full spectrum of what grape vines have to offer.  I’m also a certified Enologist and have tried my hand at a few of my own blends. However, my ever increasing age and very busy life have kept me from remembering the subtle details of each glass I drink.  So I thought, what better way to memorialize those wines then to document them in a blog?   Who knows… I may even impart some wisdom along the way.

I am also blessed to have a very wonderful "Purple" family and "Purple" friends.  Looking back, I've had many amazing adventures and somehow, wonderful wines tend to always be somewhere in those equations.  My hope is that blogging about wine will also allow me to preserve those unforgettable moments in my life in a unique and approachable way.
This is far from the beginning of the journey.  Let’s be honest, I’ve been enjoying fine wine for some time now.  But, I had to start somewhere and there’s no time like the present.  Enjoy my fellow wine lovers!