Despite its spike in popularity over the last five years, Pinot Noir remains rather uncommon here in the Napa Valley. With the exception of Carneros — the coolest and southern-most region in Napa — this fickle Burgundian varietal is simply ill-suited for the valley’s warm summer climates. Besides, Cabernet Sauvignon has long been crowned the king here in Napa. To be sure, this valley will never be synonymous with Pinot Noir, and driving up Highway 29 in search of this varietal is a fool’s errand. That is, unless you’re headed to Failla Wines in St. Helena.
The hook here is easy — Failla is that rare Napa Valley winery that produces noteworthy Pinot Noir. Of course, Failla’s grapes do come from the other side of the Mayacama Mountains, over in Sonoma County. I tasted three bottlings of Pinot Noir during my most recent visit to Failla last week, including their 2006 Pearlessence Vineyard Sonoma Coast, their non-designated 2006 Sonoma Coast, and their 2006 Keefer Ranch Russian River Valley. My favorites among the three Pinots were the two Sonoma Coast bottlings, with the Pearlessence probably earning the highest consideration. All three had exquisite layers of fruit, offset by just a hint of earthiness.
I also tasted a Chardonnay and a Syrah at Failla, and found both to be quite nice. The 2006 Keefer Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay was typical for a California version of a Burgundian wine (green-apple acidity with slight background oak). The 2005 Phoenix Ranch Syrah Napa Valley revealed a trace of wintergreen on the nose, and featured the restraint in style that is the hallmark of cool-climate Syrah. The Syrah and Chardonnay were good, no doubt, but you’ll most likely remember the Pinot Noir.