Thursday, September 2, 2010

Peju Province Winery - My 100th Wine Tasting in the Napa Valley!

After taking a number of photos Robert Mondavi Winery, I traveled a mile north on Highway 29 to Peju Province Winery. I’ve been wine tasting in the Napa Valley for ten years, since the Spring of 2000, and keeping track of which and how many wineries I have visited. It turns out, this was my 100th winery visit in the Napa Valley.
Most wineries I have visited throughout California have a wine bar where you walk up, pays nominal fee and then a server pours you a number of wines to sample. Some wineries offer tours in which you tasting wine as you walk around the winery, perhaps the wine caves (such as Beringer Vineyards Baldacci Family Vineyards, Castello di Amorosa, Del Dotto Vineyards, Rutherford Hill Winery) and receive an education about the history and wine making process of the particular winery. Occasionally you might find a winery that offers “sit down” tasting at a table (such as Quintessa winery, Duckhorn Vineyards) which I prefer as it allows you to relax as you examine the wines. Peju Province Winery is a little different, they have you stand around in their lobby for 10 to 15 minutes until a server has set up a station at a corner wine bar somewhere in the winery. As I stood there, I asked one of the employees, “Excuse me, am I being ignored?”

Then a host escorts you to that particular table and should you wish to stop and take a picture along the way the escort will be sure to get annoyed that you didn’t follow her like a mother duck to your destination. This arrangement seems rather odd and it made me feel rather unwelcome. As I stood waiting I almost walked out. Then I found that I was forced to be with a particular group of people that I was not traveling with and was treated as if I was with them. To be honest, the ladies I was tasting with her a group of friends who seemed to be traveling the valley together and the fact that they had this stranger being huddled into their group, forced to stand at the end of the little wine bar, didn’t seem to fair to them either.

After making our wine through through a few rooms which were reminiscent of the interior of a church with stained glass windows and a beautiful spiraling staircase we then found ourselves standing at typical wine bar, with a server who politely described the wines as he poured them.

So, all the waiting and escorting results in standing in front of  a typical wine bar that you find at any other winery, except they don’t have the fuss. I later asked to a friend of mine who is a fan of Peju’s wines, particularly their Cabernet Franc (which we didn’t taste), and he said that he too found the coordination of the tasting room to be awkward as it puts the visitor in an uncomfortable situation. While the wines we sampled were all fine, I would suggest that they re-think their tasting room procedures.

The white wines were all way too cold as the glass frosted as soon as the wine was poured. So, I cupped the wine in my hands, warming the glass as I swirled it in order to get it to open up. 

Our first was the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc – Napa Valley. This is not your grassy herbal type of Sauv Blanc like those that come from New Zealand as it leans more on the citrus and tropical fruit side, which is actually what I prefer. It is a fairly decent wine for $22.
Our second white wine was the 2009 Estate Chardonnay – Napa Valley. This wine is whole-cluster pressed, barrel aged in 100% French oak and spent six months on its lees. The grapes come from Persephone Ranch vineyard, it is 100% Chardonnay and they only 30% new oak. The best thing about this Chard is that it is well balanced. It isn’t too oaky or too buttery as it maintains both the crisp fruit qualities of a fine Chardonnay (apple, apricot, pears) and yet it also has some great secondary characteristics such as toasted nuts, butterscotch, candied ginger with a subtle creamy finish. If this is what you are looking for in a Chardonnay, it’s a nice wine for $28.

Our third wine was Provence, a California Red and White Blend. This is like a rosé, but not one made in the traditional manner. Usually a blush or rosé is made from red-skinned grapes that crushed and the skins are allowed to remain in contact with the juice for two or three days. The grapes are then pressed, and the skins are discarded rather than left in contact throughout fermentation as with red wine making. Provence however looks and tastes somewhat like a rosé but it is actually a blend of finished red wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel) with finished white wines (Chardonnay and French Colombard) from Napa and Mendocino counties. Like other rosés, this wine has notes of cherry, raspberry, strawberry, cranberry and with delicate floral notes. It’s a nice summer wine and sells for $22 a bottle.

Our first red wine was the 2007 Estate Zinfandel – Napa Valley. This wine 100% Estate grown Zinfandel that comes from their Persephone Ranch Vineyard located on the backside of Howell Mountain. The alcohol on this wine is 15.7% which may seem a little high, but it is a well balanced wine so there is no “heat” on the back end, unlike many Lodi zins I have sampled. It is a big red wine with layers of cherry, plum jam, cola, berry pie, with hints of pepper and spice with plenty of backbone and nice tannins. A really nice wine for $28.

Our second red wine was the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley. This wine is a blend of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot. The Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are organically grown from their Rutherford Vineyard, barrel aged for 26 months in 85% new French Oak. This deep red wine is rich and concentrated on the palate with layers of black currant, plum cheery with a hint of cocoa with soft tannins. A nice wine but a bit steep at $45 a bottle as there are plenty of similar wines of this caliber for a lot less money in the $20-$30 range.

Our third red wine was from their library, the 2005 Fifty/Fifty (50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon) which comes from 100% Estate Napa Valley fruit. This wine was nice but seemed a bit too soft after tasting the Zin and Cabernet Sauvignon. I would suggest re-arranging the order of the tastings and try this one before the Zinfandel and the Cabernet.

Our fourth red wine was the 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – Napa Valley This is an exceptional wine that was the be3st of the lineup. It is made of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot, and 3% Merlot. The fruit was sourced from their organically grown Rutherford Vineyard and it is a great representative of Napa Valley Cabernet, but there plenty of others of similar quality for a lot less that $105!

Our final tasting was the the 2006 Estate Celicias, Estate Zinfandel Port – Napa Valley ($50) It is a very nice port-styled fortified dessert wine (how can you call a wine a “port’ when it isn’t even made from the traditional port grapes such as Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional?) that isn’t syrupy or too gooey. A nice wine but the bottle is only 375 ml and it sells for $50! There are MANY similar wines (in fact better ones made from Port grapes), available in Lodi, Amador County and elsewhere for a lot less money.

Overall, I enjoyed my visit to Peju but I didn't bring anything home.

To see more pictures of Peju Province Wines, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:

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