The Wines of California's Napa Valley

The Napa Valley wine region in California benefits from its range of growing conditions. Winemakers of the Napa Valley region produce popular types of wine, along with some of the lesser-known whites and reds.

Napa Valley red wines

Napa Valley's most popular red wines include the following:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon: Napa Valley’s best wines are its Cabernet Sauvignons and Cabernet blends. The generally warm, dry climate of Napa Valley suits the Cabernet Sauvignon grape variety just fine. Even though Cabernet Sauvignon wines are produced in many regions throughout the world, only France’s Bordeaux region and Napa Valley have achieved world-class status for wines made from this popular variety.

  • Merlot: Merlot remains Napa Valley’s second most produced red wine after Cabernet Sauvignon. When not made as a varietal wine, Merlot is invariably blended into Cabernet Sauvignon (in small quantities, such as 10 percent) or blended into other Napa Valley red wines.

  • Pinot Noir: Pinot Noir is Napa Valley’s third most produced varietal red wine. In Napa Valley, Pinot Noir grows primarily in Carneros, the Valley’s coolest district.

  • Zinfandel: The original red version of Zinfandel is Napa Valley’s fourth largest red varietal wine in production, although as with Pinot Noir, Sonoma is more renowned than Napa Valley for Zinfandel. (White Zinfandel, which is really pink, comes primarily from California’s inland Central Valley.)

Blended wines have become increasingly popular in Napa Valley. Three of Napa Valley’s elite reds, Opus One, Rubicon, and Dominus, are red wine blends (all are primarily made from Cabernet Sauvignon). Most Napa Valley blended wines use the grape varieties famous in France’s Bordeaux region — Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and sometimes Petit Verdot and/or Malbec.

Napa Valley white wines

The most popular white wines produced in Napa Valley include:

  • Chardonnay: The Chardonnay grape variety continues to produce Napa Valley’s most popular white wine by a good margin.

  • Sauvignon Blanc: Sometimes labeled Fumé Blanc, this is Napa Valley’s second favorite white.

  • Pinot Grigio/Gris and Viognier are newcomers that are beginning to make inroads into Chardonnay’s dominance. Some wine drinkers just want a little more variety in their white wine choices!

As with the blended red wines, most Napa Valley blended white wines use grape varieties famous in Bordeaux — in this case, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon (pronounced seh-me-yohn).

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