Saturday, March 16, 2013

Tasting Notes: Burdell Cellars 2012 Gibbs Grenache

2012 Gibbs Grenache is Burdell Cellars' first "grape-to-glass" wine, and we're really proud of how it turned out. If you missed the posts about its production, we wrote about the grape-crushing (which we did in September 2012), the separation and racking (October 2012), and the bottling (December 2012), so take a look if you're interested.

We were pretty impressed with the flavor when we did a small tasting during bottling, and we imagined the wine would be ready to drink quickly relative to other reds because of its faint tannins and already-developed fruit flavors. So when we uncorked a bottle three months later at the beginning of March 2013, we expected very good things.

The flavor profile hasn't changed a great deal since last time, with red fruit still the predominant nose and taste. Commonly mentioned fruit flavors included raspberry and blackberry, with strawberry, currant, and pomegranate also coming through sometimes. The tannin character is faint light but noticeable, giving the wine just a little structure but not drying it out too much. And the finish is still pleasantly rich, with slight chocolate and spice flavors emerging this time.

Comparing to a prototypical Grenache, ours has the same light color (for a red, that is--it was best described as "ruby" in contrast to the deep purple of "bigger" reds) and relatively high alcohol (we estimated it at 14.5%). The dominant flavors are mostly the same, but ours is relatively more acidic that most Grenaches tend to be.

The sediment is still a problem, but we were able to pour four generous glasses from a bottle and discarded maybe a third of a glass of highly sedimented dregs. Filtration through cheesecloth or a coffee filter probably would have helped.

Since we first tasted it back in December, our Grenache has only gotten better, and for our first "real" vintage, the mere fact that we made wine instead of vinegar is quite an accomplishment. As always, we'd be happy to arrange a tasting if you're interested! We hope you'll find it an agreeable and relaxing wine that brings you to your lowest energy state.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Grenache and Plum Wine: Bottling

When last we left our Grenache, back in October, it was sitting in a carboy and slowly clarifying. Over a few months, we monitored its pH and residual sugar content, and once everything had stabilized, we sped up the clarification process by adding bentonite. Oddly, the addition of what is essentially dirt to the wine helps to clarify it, as it assists in precipitating suspended solids.

Our yield ended up being four bottles of rose...

... and about twenty bottles of red.
As you can see, the wine didn't clarify as much as we would have liked it to, but that's not an awful problem. Standing the wine up for a few days before drinking--but not enough to dry out the cork--should promote settling of the solids that remain, and if it remains a problem, decanting or filtering are good options. After we let our tasting sample settle for about an hour, here's what it looked like:
having a nice cherry-red color appropriate to a lighter red wine. Of course, we took the opportunity to taste it, and while it's clearly young (and still a touch gritty!), it's already obvious how this wine might surpass our Carnot Cabernet. The decision not to oak the wine was a good one, as it let the red-fruit strawberry and raspberry flavors through, and it finished with a rich, almost port-like flavor. Tannins are weak, and it will probably be ready to drink delightfully quickly. Until then, our official mascot Gryphy will stand guard over the bottles.

We've also recently bottled our side project, the Strictly Plum-tonic mead and wine. Here's Kierston pouring it from a jug into a pot suitable for settling and siphoning...
...and here's what it looked like.
Finally, here's the mead in its tasting glass, exhibiting a golden color reminiscent of both honey and the plums we used to make the mead.
The Plum-tonic Mead is already wonderfully complex, with a powerful flavor of wildflower that gradually relaxes into a sweet and alcoholic finish, similar to a fortified wine.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Re-Tasting Notes: Burdell Cellars 2011 Carnot Cabernet

Back in August, Burdell Cellars finished and bottled its first vintage, the 2011 Carnot Cabernet. First, note the bottle, complete with Kierston's snazzy new label design. Our mascot Gryphy is featured on the front of the label, complete with RAT cap. It's been sitting in bottles like this one in the eponymous cellar for the past several months, and we recently uncorked a few bottles to celebrate Thanksgiving. Here's what we and a handful of other tasters thought.

Carnot Cabernet appears a little darker in color now, more toward the purple side of red wine, though that's a qualitative assessment. Tannins are still light, and several of our other tasters described it as having a fruity quality, just like in our previous tasting. In contrast to the previous tasting, the oak flavor is more pronounced, coming with a touch of anise and even a hint of pepper on the nose and first sip.

The wine seems more acidic and brighter in character than it did a few months ago. It remains easy to drink, with many of our tasters describing it as "smooth". The two biggest compliments we've received about Carnot Cabernet were 1) "it tastes like wine" and 2) "I don't usually like wine, but this is pretty good." For a from-concentrate first effort, we're pretty pleased with the Carnot Cabernet and will continue to taste it and post flavor updates.

As always, Burdell Cellars is happy to arrange a tour or a tasting!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Beer Review: All Things Pumpkin

With harvest season over, there isn't necessarily a lot for winemakers big or small to do in late October. We're watching wine sit in carboys, waiting for a little clarification or secondary fermentation before bottling. Fortunately, it also happens to be one of the finest times of the year for craft brewing: pumpkin ale season. Burdell Cellars is going to shift gears for a bit and talk beer.

Harpoon (Boston, MA) Pumpkin Cider is not strictly a beer, but it's a delicious pumpkin-flavored beverage that deserves a mention. I had this way back at the beginning of pumpkin-ale season, over Labor Day weekend. Steph and I agreed that this pumpkin cider was better than their pumpkin beer: a delightfully acidic combination of apple and pumpkin, with the usual pumpkin spices thrown in for good measure. Since it was so much sweeter than any of the pumpkin ales, it was tough to compare it directly, but Harpoon Pumpkin Cider is a great alternative to pumpkin beer for those who don't like beer (or addition for those who do). 4.8% ABV

Shipyard (Portland, ME) Pumpkinhead is tough not to think of as the "little brother" to Smashed Pumpkin (see below). It's fascinating to see two different takes on pumpkin ale from the same brewer, and it's clear that Pumpkinhead is the more "mass-market" version. Available in 12-oz bottles (and cans!) rather than larger bottles, it's a much lighter beer in color, flavor, and alcohol than Smashed Pumpkin. At its worst, Pumpkinhead comes across as the light beer of pumpkin beers; at best, it's a readily drinkable, unobtrusive beer that doesn't overpower with either sweetness or fruit. 5.1% ABV

Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin was one of our favorites from last fall, and it held up well this time around too. Thicker, more flavorful, and more alcoholic than Pumpkinhead, Smashed Pumpkin is loaded with cinnamon and nutmeg, and it actually tastes like pumpkin, something that's surprisingly novel for pumpkin beers. Bonus points for color: Smashed Pumpkin pours a brilliant copper, the exact shade you'd get if you put a bright candle into a dark orange pumpkin. 9.0% ABV

Samuel Adams (Boston, MA) Harvest Pumpkin Ale was another "little brother" beer, this time to the Fat Jack (also reviewed below). Harvest Pumpkin was a lot less strong or flavorful than I remember, with a nice pumpkin spice aroma but surprisingly weak spice taste. The flavor was a little reminiscent of a wheat beer, with some ester taste on the end. We all agreed this one was toward the watery end of the pumpkin beers; some of us were fine with that while others wanted something thicker. 5.7% ABV

Samuel Adams Fat Jack "Double Pumpkin," like the Smashed Pumpkin from Shipyard, was miles ahead of its six-pack relative. Fat Jack lived up to its name--it was certainly the thickest and most syrupy pumpkin beer we tried. It's creamy, almost starchy, but doesn't overwhelm with sweetness; Fat Jack boasts the same pumpkin spices in its aroma as Harvest Pumpkin but delivers more of those flavors (plus actual pumpkin) in the taste. 8.5% ABV

Uinta (Salt Late City, Utah) Punk'n Harvest Pumpkin Ale was yet another "two takes on the same beer" concept, and for a third time, the larger-batch, less-alcoholic version was the weaker one. Punk'n smelled great, a bit like a slice of pumpkin pie, but the aroma was the best part. The flavor started weak and watery and built to oddly sticky, with not nearly enough middle ground. It's brewed with organic ingredients, which is pretty cool if that's an important consideration for your beer enjoyment. 4.0 % ABV

Uinta Oak Jacked Imperial Pumpkin was easily the most complex, intriguing beer we tasted. "Imperial" is a term that gets thrown around an awful lot in beer--it usually indicates a high alcohol content, but it should also imply a certain richness and complexity. Oak Jacked Imperial Pumpkin did not disappoint in that regard--it had the depth of flavor (and alcohol content!) of an imperial stout, and the oak provided a nice heat and roasted character. A few people thought the oak overwhelmed the pumpkin, but for how ambitious this beer is, the balance was remarkably good. Given its price point, it needed to be one of the best beers we tasted, and it completely delivered. 10.3% ABV

Sacia Brewing Company (Berkeley, CA) Pumpkin was the product of my friend Eric's home-brewing operation, and it was quite credible. Eric agreed that it could have used more pumpkin flavor, but to paraphrase him, you use twice as much pumpkin as you think you should and get half the pumpkin flavor that you think you will. The base beer had a fantastic flavor to it somewhere along the lines of a pale ale, so the lack of pumpkin didn't bother us too much. Roughly 6% ABV

Kennebunkport Brewing Company (Kennebunkport, ME) Pumpkin Ale was by far the cheapest of all the pumpkin beers we tried, and it was a bit polarizing, depending on whether you wanted your beer to taste exactly like pumpkin pie rather than beer. Probably the sweetest of these beers, it was actually impressive how much like pie this beer tasted, and though its lack of alcohol or either hoppy or malty character might be off-putting for some beer aficionados, it's an incredibly inexpensive brew that tastes like a fall dessert beer. 4.7% ABV

Hermitage Brewing Company (San Jose, CA) Fruit Crate Pumpkin Ale was distinctly different from basically every pumpkin ale we had: there was no pumpkin spice, not even cinnamon! It wasn't deliberately styled as a hoppy beer, but it was so bitter compared to the rest of the pumpkin ale scene that it seemed almost like an IPA by comparison. The result was a beer that tasted more like squash than pumpkin pie, which might not be unpleasant under certain circumstances but is definitely unexpected. 9.0% ABV

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Grenache: Separation and Racking

Crushing and pressing 100 pounds of grapes was the first step in making our first "real" wine, a Central Valley Grenache. We left off last time with around seven gallons of grape juice, most of it sitting in the primary fermenter with the grape skins and a few of the stems still in the mix. After adding yeast and waiting a day or two, a "plug" formed, with all the skins rising to the top of the fermenter.

We stirred every few days to degas and ensure that the yeast were evenly mixed through the fermenting juice...

...until the juice was about the color and character we wanted. If we had left the must (the skins, stems, seeds, and other assorted grape parts) remain in contact with the juice for longer, we would have ended up with a darker, "bigger" red wine, with a more dry and tannin-intense flavor. We didn't want to go too strong, so we stopped around here:

 First, being good scientists, we recorded the specific gravity...

...and the pH.

The pH was in the range of 3.5, essentially unchanged from last time, but the specific gravity had dropped all the way to 0.993. That suggested the alcohol content of our wine will be around 13 to 14% by volume once it's ready to drink.

After we made our measurements, it was time to separate the juice from the must. We siphoned most of the juice straight to a glass carboy, leaving the must and some sediment at the bottom of the fermenter. Here I am, clearly excited to siphon.

Unfortunately, this didn't go as smoothly as we wanted. About halfway in, the tubing decided it had enough of our auto-siphoner, and Kierston took the brunt of it.

Once we'd recovered from our mini-disaster, we ran the sediment-laden juice and must through a strainer, reserving the skins. Here's Forrest, pressing the skins one last time to recover some last drops of juice. This was surprisingly effective--we guessed we got a free bottle of wine or two from the second pressing.

Here's the total volume of juice. Notice how incredibly sediment-y it is... this is mostly yeast biomass but also leftover particulate matter from the grapes that was too fine to strain.

 For comparison, here's what our Carnot Cabernet looked like at this stage.

It's much redder--indicating that the finished wine will be darker--but otherwise similarly turbid. You wouldn't want to drink the wine at this stage, but fortunately, gravity started doing its job almost immediately to settle out most of the sediment.

The bottom sediment layer continued to grow for a few weeks; after a few days, the young wine developed this stratification pattern from phase separation.

A week or two later, the separation was nearly complete, and most of the wine was in the clear purple top phase. We racked again to discard the sediment, and replaced the wine into the carboy to wait for the slow secondary fermentation and degas steps.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Grenache Grape-Crushing

Burdell Cellars got its feet wet making a wine from concentrate and some small batches of plum wines, but when the grape harvest came in early September, we were ready to make some legitimate, grapes-to-glass wine. The first step, naturally, was crushing one hundred pounds of Grenache grapes.

Here's what they look like close-up!

We got some friends together...

...poured some Carnot Cabernet...

...and got to work. Before we crushed the grapes, we had to de-stem them...

...and then it was time to crush. We're not big-time enough yet to have a crushing apparatus, so we improvised.

Once we had crushed all the grapes, we dumped all the juice and skins, along with about ten percent of the stems and seeds, into our fermenter. We dumped a crushed Campden tablet into the juice to sanitize it and let it sit overnight. The next day, we measured the initial sugar content (about 23 Brix) and pH (roughly 3.5). Then, we added activated yeast plus a little yeast nutrient to the fermenter, sealed it with the lid, and stuck in an airlock.

The shade of the wine--from light rosé to dark, tannin-y red--depends on how long you let the juice contact the skins and stems. We're aiming for a "medium-body" red, so we planned for about a 2-week contact time. We also set aside a batch of rosé that we separated from the skins and stems after only a few days. In the next post, I'll talk about the straining process where we removed the skins and stems.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Strictly Plumtonic Wine and Mead: more photos

Here are some more pictures from making plum wine, again courtesy of Kierston:

Kathryn and I are crushing some plums (and drinking Carnot Cabernet):

A really nice close-up of the plums from Kathryn's tree:

Me covered in plum pulp:

Kathryn, me, and Kierston crushing more plums:

Here's what seven pounds of pulp looks like: