Sunday, January 24, 2010

Winery Adventure – Special (Belated) New Year's Edition

Mock Turtle and I have a long-standing New Year’s tradition of visiting a new (or revisiting an old) wine region, tasting and generally having fun bringing in the New Year. This year’s annual New Year’s Wine Tasting Weekend took place in Napa, close to home for us both. We visited four wineries over the course of the weekend: Nicholson Ranch, Plumpjack, Turnbull, and Peju. (We usually hit more, but the wine tasting was interrupted by Bon Vivant’s fantastic New Year’s Day Karaoke and Bubbly Party! No posts on that topic however; all wild behavior will be kept secret.) One of these four wineries stood out – although it stood out in a mixed manner, as you will see. The grounds and the wines were great, but the wine tasting experience was a mixed bag. But first things first.

Peju Winery in Rutherford is an exceptionally beautiful facility, and the sculpture-filled gardens and the art exhibit are tasteful and elegant. I’m linking to the website’s photo gallery, so you can get a taste (no pun intended, although I like it). Peju Gallery.

And we also loved the wines! It was a generous tasting; we sampled nine wines, and there wasn’t a single one I didn’t find to be quite lovely. A few of them I thought were jaw-droppingly good! In particular, I loved the well-balanced 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, with pear and citrus in the nose, and a fuller mouth-feel than many Sauvs, and grapefruit and pineapple notes. I also loved the 2005 Estate Cabernet Franc Rutherford Reserve, balanced and lush, with notes of spice and leather and plums and cocoa. Wonderful! The 2005 Estate Cabernet Rutherford Reserve was superb as well (Bing cherry, milk chocolate), and honorable mention goes to the 2006 Fifty/Fifty Red with notes of cherries and coffee and a very soft mouth-feel.

However, the tasting setup itself is one I take some exception to (as do many of my local friends, I’ve found). In lieu of one large tasting room, Peju has numerous (I don’t know how many, but I saw at least three) small tasting stations set up for a max of about 8 -12 people, and tastings are done in groups. We actually had to wait in line for 10 or 15 minutes before we were escorted to our tasting area. Once there, the tasting was almost like a small – very basic - wine class, in which all 8 of us tasted each wine together after listening to the server’s comments about it, and the approach seemed to be geared toward folks who are wine novices. Which generally isn’t what I want when I go tasting.

Why does Peju do this? I can but speculate, although it does utilize their lovely space well, and it does enable them to move people through a tasting on a set, predictable schedule. However, MT and I like to linger over our tastings, discussing each wine in excruciating detail (along with discussing the latest movies, fashion, gossip, or whatever else flits across our minds). And we both felt rushed by this tasting experience. Don’t get me wrong; our server, Jeff, was engaging and friendly and well informed about the wines. He also quickly figured out that MT and I were very knowledgeable, and he tried his best to let us take our time, and I have no complaints whatsoever about his excellent service. But the scheduled “roll ‘em up, move ‘em out” tasting format just isn’t my cup of tea, to mix metaphors.

Having said that, I will certainly return to Peju to purchase wines. Nor would I discourage anyone from visiting – again, because the wines are worth it. And I might even consider taking friends there who are perhaps newer to wine, and might enjoy the “wine class” tasting approach.


Bon said...

What I've had of Peju wines I've really liked; can't wait to try more based on your review. Sorry about the way too structured tasting - sounds very touristy. You gals need to go to Sullivan and sit down with Bill for two hours.

What did you think of Turnbull? Ran into a guy at Bella who said that it was his favorite winery.

Daphne said...

Hey BV, thanks for the comment! Turnbull was pleasant, we weren't bowled over, but I think their 2008 Sauv was quite nice - notes of honey and lychee and guava, and I also liked their 2007 Old Bull Red, a blend with lots of chocolate and cherry notes. I will check out Sullivan!

Marcia Macomber said...

I have always intensely disliked Peju's tasting protocols at their winery. I've had more than one unpleasant experience having to wait behind a rope for the heavily guided tasting and even seen the server scold another visitor for not taking proper notes with a pen and pay attention to the lecture. This is not what visitors to wine country want when they're trying to relax!

Indeed the wines were lovely, but they get a big X for ambiance inside. I shall not return -- even to buy -- for that very reason!

Mock Turtle said...

Great Post! You perfectly captured our experience at the winery. I enjoyed it, as you know, but would have had an even better time if we'd been left to our own devices.

I don't like it when the pourer tells us what the wine is supposed to taste like before we start tasting. It's far better to tease out the flavors on our own.