Swirl n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week
Peju Province Vineyards
By Heather Irwin
Lowdown: Oh, how we wanted to hate Alan, especially when he abandoned our tasting session to get his guitar. But we just couldn't. See, after visiting some billion or so wineries in the last year, the Boy and I felt that we've pretty much seen it all. Rude, bored, tired, uninterested tasting staff--for sure. Conversely, we've also been welcomed, inspired, teased, educated and impressed many times. But rapped at, yodeled to and serenaded? Um, negative. We were in new territory with Peju's inimitable tasting-room entertainer, Alan Arnopole (or rather, as his card reads, "Yodel Meister"), who did all three at one tasting, much to our horror. And, OK, to our delight.
Peju feels a little like interactive dinner theater. You're ushered into a massive tasting area in groups and given something of a floor show while you taste. Though you can't help but feel like the Zinfandel rap is a little canned, Alan's the consummate showman, infusing the whole thing with some pretty interesting information (who knew that Zinfandel is actually a Croatian grape varietal?) and a wicky-wicky record scratch at the end that is damned funny. Sure, it's a little corny, a bit embarrassing at points. But hey, winetasting should be fun, and for all the snobby, annoying foof you have to put up with along Highway 29 some days, it's nice to be a little embarrassed about something other than not knowing the difference between Syrah and Petite Syrah.
Mouth value: Like a lot of Napa wineries, Peju does a lot of things, but only does a few of them really, really well. Napa is Cabernet country, and Peju's Rutherford Reserve ($85) is a spectacular wine. Decanted, it's a deep purple satin, infused with licorice and chocolate. The '01 Estate Cabernet, at a more friendly $35, also decanted, has a big, fat marshmallowy quality that's as smooth and easy as a Sunday morning. Both have a Napoleonic complex; a little petite in boldness, they work doubly hard to impress with flavor and depth. Aside from the Cabs, a favorite was the '01 Syrah ($32), which had a nice earthiness and feisty darkness of flavor, as well as the '01 Merlot ($35), a tease of a Merlot that has more in common with a Cabernet than its more wimpy kin. And don't miss the '03 Sauvignon Blanc ($16)! Though it has plenty of bright, tropical fruit, it lacks the Hawaiian Punch-iness of less stellar Sauvignon Blancs. This is a springtime bloom in the mouth.
Five-second snob: Peju sells about 80 percent of its small production (only about 30,000 cases) to restaurants and high-end distributors. So if you like something, your best bet is to buy it at the winery, 'cause you won't find it elsewhere.
Spot: Peju Province, 8466 St. Helena Hwy., Rutherford. Open daily, 10am to 6pm. $5 tasting fee. 707.963.3600.
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From the February 2-8, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.