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!