Just shy of ten years ago I was poured a glass of Peju Province's cabernet franc at a fancy dinner in St. Helena. The line up of wines (click on the image to view) at the dinner was like an A list of Napa Valley celebrities, but apparently only two of the wines deserved notation, and Peju's cabernet franc (2006) was one of them. Later that same week I attended a trade tasting/party at the welcoming estate where I had another go at the same wine. Looking back at my notes from that week, it's clear it made an impression on me.
In the intervening decade, I've not had the opportunity to revisit Peju's wines. They're expensive, as are most Napa Valley wines these days, and mostly out of reach for my budget. Still, when these samples arrived I was curious if lightning would strike twice with that cab franc. Read on to find out.
Located in Rutherford, Peju is a family-run, organic winery making honest, terroir-driven (mostly) red wines with a certain iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove theme running through them. That said, unlike so many Napa reds, these are categorically approachable and, as is the case particularly with the blends, ridiculously lush, and open textured. This only adds to their appeal. While expensive, they are no more so than their neighbors' wines, are well-made, and register far higher on the pleasure scale than many. Following are my notes on these wines in no particular order.
2015 Peju Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $60
Bright presentation of high-flying spice notes wrapped around a core of surprisingly agile cabernet character. Still just a baby, even at four years old, though approachable nonetheless.
2013 Peju Cabernet Franc 'Petit Trois' Napa Valley $75
An absolute joy to drink, and not just because it says so on the back label. Dark fruit that occupies the triangle between mysterious, lush, and luxurious is structured by spicy oak notes and a balanced acidity that acts like a homing beacon, and keeps you coming back involuntarily. All of this is delivered in an incredibly relaxed manner, owed in part to its age (six years), but this sort of approachability doesn’t happen by accident. Such a luxurious experience and not a drop out of place.
2015 Peju 'The Farm' Napa Valley $80
Opulent yet remarkably affable. The luxurious nose gives way to a plush palate where gritty, dusty tannins shape voluptuous, dark fruit. Harmony in the glass. Gob smacking and delicious with a finish that you might want a cigarette for. A complete package.8-0% cabernet with 20% sangiovese.
2016 Peju Merlot Napa Valley $48
You'll fall in love with this wine without tasting it, that’s how wonderful the robust nose is. The sentiment carries through the tannin-forward palate that grips your salivary glands (and heart) with seductive force. Authentic merlot made in an honest Napa profile. Yum.
2016 Peju Cabernet Sauvignon 'The Experiment' Napa Valley $100
Whoa! The blue tinted color says cabernet and the high cheek-boned aromatics say classy. This is textbook high-end Napa cab, replete with tightly integrated tannins, massive, yet elegant black fruit, and a finish that won’t let your attention wander. French oak framing adds to the poise and refinement, but make no mistake, this is anything but reserved. Proud, confident, and serious without being gregarious. It's also kind of a neat concept, which you can read about here.