One of the things that I miss most about living in California is having access to smaller boutique wine producers who often don’t make enough wine to warrant sales outside the state. In order to keep current, I will often hit up my fellow sommeliers on the west coast for tips on what is hot and new. The recent buzzing and swooning has been over Peay Vineyards from Sonoma Coast.
Peay Vineyards is a family partnership between Andy Peay, his brother Nick and Nick’s wife Vanessa Wong. Their 50-acre hilltop estate sits well above the fog line at 700 feet elevation, 4 miles from the Pacific Ocean in a very remote part of Sonoma Coast. They grow and vinify Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne.
Vanessa Wong is the winemaker and left her position as winemaker at Peter Michael Winery in 2001 to launch Peay Vineyards. She has also made wine at Château Lafite-Rothschild, Domaine Jean Gros and Hirsch Vineyards. Nick is a UC Davis trained winemaker and is charge of the grape growing. The charismatic Andy handles the sales, marketing and everything else.
As luck would have it, Andy Peay was in town this week and a mutual friend arranged for us to all have dinner where I was able to taste the lineup of Peay wines. Andy is extremely charming and I can see why all my sommelier friends are so enamored with him. When sommeliers recommend wine, we don’t just sell what’s inside the bottle but we also tell the story of the people who made it and Andy is just one of those guys that make it fun and necessary for us to do our jobs.
As for the wines, they are my new obsession. In a market where I see way too many over blown wines that lack balance, the Peay wines are focused, elegant and restrained. The Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir offers notes of fresh crushed raspberries, violets and fresh turned soil. The palate shows the prettier side of Pinot Noir with a Vosne-Romanee-esque charm. The ripe cherry fruit flavors fool you into thinking the wine is going to be overly ripe but then the finish shows some grip and refreshing acidity. The Pomarium Pinot Noir exhibits a much darker black cherry color with more intense aromatics of licorice, baking spice, fresh herbs and black cherry jam but still manages to remain elegant. I also tried the dark plum colored Scallop Shelf Pinot Noir which reminded me of a well structured Pommard with notes of violets, mushrooms, cherries and earth. I found it to be the richest of the bunch. The Peay Chardonnays were also quite nice with the perfect balance of lemon curd, toast and buttery hazelnuts. If I could pick a favorite of the night, it would be the Peay La Bruma Syrah which was an absolute show stopper. I love Cote Rotie and this Syrah had all the merits of a good one: concentrated black fruits, smoked meat, Provencal herbs and that distinct pepperiness that should come forth in all good Syrah based wines.
The wines of Peay Vineyards are available in Illinois or via their mailing list. They are not inexpensive but I find they fit the category of “worth the splurge” as the experience will stay with you long after you have finished the last glass. Besides, you could spend your money on worse things like a parking ticket.