In the past, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay were almost synonymous with red and white wine for many Americans. This has changed and most Americans are becoming familiar with a much wider range of varieties than previously.
However, these two eponymous varieties are still the most widely planted red and grape varieties in California and its most famous enclave, Napa Valley. Thus, the best wine tastings in Napa are sure to include a glass or two of big, bold Napa Cab and fruit-forward Chardonnay.
Cabernet Sauvignon rules supreme in the Napa Valley and no matter which of the Valley’s 16 sub-appellations (known as American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs) you are visiting, you are bound to find this archetypal Napa Valley variety, with its rich, blackcurrant, cherry, liquorice, vanilla and dark chocolate flavours, on the agenda for all the best wine tasting in Napa Valley. Indeed, it was a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Stags Leap District AVA that saw off its elite French competitors from Bordeaux in the infamous Judgement of Paris blind tasting held in 1976, scoring most highly of all the reds.
Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc
Although red wines, especially Cab and red Bordeaux or Meritage blends, strongly outnumber whites here, Chardonnay is the region’s most planted white variety, followed by Sauvignon Blanc and the best Napa Valley wine tasting will include a sprinkling of buttery Chardonnay or crisp, fruity Sauvignon Blanc. The best wine tasting in Napa may also enable you to try the Fumé Blanc, which is an oaked version of the more normally reductively vinified Sauvignon Blanc.
Other varieties commonly grown in Napa are California’s flagship variety, Zinfandel, otherwise known as Zin. Zinfandel was the mainstay of nineteenth century winemaking in California, producing a dry, alcohol red with jammy flavours of cherry, blueberry and cranberry with a spicy, smoky finish. Nowadays, it’s also vinified as a sweet, rosé version, known as White Zinfandel, which has become increasingly popular. Although you’ll generally find Zin at the best Napa wine tasting, it usually plays second fiddle in the Valley to the more lucrative Cabernet Sauvignon. Fruity Merlot jostles for space in the vineyards with Petit Verdot and Malbec, which are mainly used in classic Bordeaux blends to add tannin, colour and spicy complexity to the final wines, although they may also occasionally be bottled as varietal wines and on offer at the best wine tasting. Napa Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon’s Bordeaux stablemate, may be as big and bold as its sibling when grown alongside it here in the Valley. Syrah, aka Shiraz, and Petite Sirah are also amongst the three dozen varieties that flourish in Napa. Even fickle Pinot Noir, an unlikely candidate for Napa’s warm climate, is planted in the cooler areas of the valley, such as Los Carneros, which was the first sub-AVA to realise its potential.
Traditional method sparkling wine from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir will also be part of your best wine tasting. Napa Valley has also attracted investment from some of the best Spanish Cava and French Champagne houses, who marry ripe Californian fruit with Spanish and French wine-making expertise and flair.
Given California’s tradition of seeing grape variety as more important than place, you won’t need to navigate your way through swathes of appellation names to discover what you’re drinking. Although learning a little about the key sub-AVAs may help you to refine and vary your Napa Cab experience.
At Wine Paths, our team of local experts can help you discover some of the varieties grown in the Valley at the very best wine tasting in Napa.
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