Tasting Notes: Pinot Noir @ Failla Wines, St. Helena

Despite its spike in popularity over the last several years, Pinot Noir remains rather uncommon here in the Napa Valley. With the exception of the Carneros District — which is the coolest and southern-most region in the Napa Valley — Pinot Noir proves ill-suited for our warm Mediterranean climate. But even if this fickle Burgundian varietal could somehow become more adaptable to Napa, Cabernet Sauvignon has long staked its claim here in the valley, and no other varietal can ever muster a challenge for the crown. Since capturing the world’s attention with the Judgment of Paris in 1976, not only is Cabernet the main event here in the Napa Valley, it’s practically become the only show in town. Searching for Pinot Noir in Napa remains a fool’s errand, no questsion. That is, unless the discussion involves Failla Wines in St. Helena.

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The hook here is quite [… read more …]

Tasting Notes, 2008: Failla Wines, St. Helena

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 [… read more …]

Lessons in Good Living: Part One

L-I-V-I-N: 2001 LeRoy Vosne-Romanée, 1983 Chateau Latour, 1990 Domaine Weinbach Cuvée Ste. Catherine.

Wine tasting can sometimes be counter-productive to blogging, at least in the short term. Pictured above, three reasons why I’ve been mostly absent from the internet this week. This handsome trio in the photo capped an epic Tuesday evening, which began with a blind tasting of 2007 California Pinot Noir (Kosta Browne, Papapietro Perry, Chasseur, and three others; my full report to follow next week). Before this throw-down of mailing-list Pinot, I had already spent the entire day touring Napa wine country with my friend Jean-Marie, who is currently visiting California from Europe.

It had been a pleasure to host someone who shares my same passion for wine, but with an Old World perspective. Jean-Marie’s last official gig was a three-year stint as lead sommelier at Restaurant Gordon Ramsey in Chelsea (that’s a three-Michelin joint, [… read more …]

Day Tripping the North Coast: Mendocino and Sonoma in Photos

Vineyard in repose, Mendocino County.

You can say what you want about Napa. I happen to live there. But for me, Mendocino County is Northern California’s true paradise. I spent the better part of the day in the Anderson Valley today, driving past dozens of miles of vineyards that have all slipped into fall colors. All of Mendocino County looked like the photo above, at least along the winding curves of Highway 128. Outside of wine country, the landscape is dominated by moss, ferns, redwoods and oaks. In the winter, every shade of green is on display.

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Late-harvest Zin…

…or a fruitless vintage?

I noticed one vineyard, located just inside the eastern edge of Sonoma County, that still had its grapes. It looked like a Zinfandel vineyard, and I wondered if it was designated for a late harvest, or if the [… read more …]

Napa's Top 25 Wine Tours

Outside Quixote (left) and outside Schramsberg (right).

These types of lists are always debatable — if not questionable — because you have to wonder about the author’s credentials. Who really comes up with these lists, and much do they know about anything? It’s a fair question. Lots of travel writers have come to the Napa Valley and covered the wine scene, and there are plenty of opinions about all kinds of wineries.

My own perspective is uniquely local. I’ve lived in Napa for over 10 years and have spent most of that time as a professional chef (at the moment, I work as a chef-instructor at a local cooking school). Over the years, I have taken breaks from restaurant life to work as a wine educator. I spent a year at Grgich Hills pouring wine, and I spent three years at Nickel & Nickel hosting tours and tastings.

[… read more …]