California Wine For Dummies book cover

California Wine For Dummies

Published: April 3, 2009

Overview

Discover the nuances of California wines and increase your drinking pleasure! Want to be a California wine connoisseur? This friendly guide gives you the knowledge you need to appreciate these fine wines, showing you how to taste them, select a good bottle, pair wine with food, and much more. You'll see why certain wine regions are renowned and how to further enrich your wine-drinking experience.
  • California wine 101 ― understand the range of California wines, what makes them unique, and what a varietal wine is
  • Review the regions ― explore the major wine regions of California and what makes each one special, from the soil to the climate
  • Open the bottle ― become fluent in the Big Six: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel
  • Go beyond the basics ― appreciate Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Syrah, sparkling wines, and more
  • Round out your wine experience ― pair and share wines, learn about the proper glassware and serving temperatures, and prepare for a winery visit
Open the book and find:
  • An overview of California wine today
  • Wine recommendations for all budgets
  • Explanations of wine label language
  • A map of wine regions
  • Tips for aging and collecting California wines
  • Winery tasting etiquette
  • The ins and outs of recent vintages
  • Top wine country travel destinations
Discover the nuances of California wines and increase your drinking pleasure! Want to be a California wine connoisseur? This friendly guide gives you the knowledge you need to appreciate these fine wines, showing you how to taste them, select a good bottle, pair wine with food, and much more. You'll see why certain wine regions are renowned and how to further enrich your wine-drinking experience.
  • California wine 101 ― understand the range of California wines, what makes them unique, and what a varietal wine is
  • Review the regions ― explore the major wine regions of California and what makes each one special, from the soil to the climate
  • Open the bottle ― become fluent in the Big Six: Chardonnay,
Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel
  • Go beyond the basics ― appreciate Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Syrah, sparkling wines, and more
  • Round out your wine experience ― pair and share wines, learn about the proper glassware and serving temperatures, and prepare for a winery visit
  • Open the book and find:
    • An overview of California wine today
    • Wine recommendations for all budgets
    • Explanations of wine label language
    • A map of wine regions
    • Tips for aging and collecting California wines
    • Winery tasting etiquette
    • The ins and outs of recent vintages
    • Top wine country travel destinations
    California Wine For Dummies Cheat Sheet

    What is it that makes California wine so special? Wines from California constituted almost 60 percent of all wine sales in the United States and 90 percent of all U.S. exports, according to 2012 statistics from the Wine Institute. Get to know the varietals and the regions that produce them, and know the flavors to expect when you're tasting California wines.

    Articles From The Book

    15 results

    Wine Articles

    California's Rosé (Blush) Wines

    Because of the popularity of White Zinfandel and other California blush (pink and sweet) wines, California’s rosé wines have had a reputation for being sweet and innocuous. That reputation is changing, as more and more California dry rosés become available, and they're in demand.

    Of course, California still makes plenty of White Zinfandel and other sweet rosés. These wines are inexpensive, easy-drinking, flavorful, and no, not serious. But there’s definitely a time and a place to enjoy wines that don’t take themselves too seriously — and there’s certainly a place for any wine that has as many fans as White Zinfandel does.

    The term blush wine, which came into vogue in the U.S. in the 1970s, is a general name for any sweet pink wine. White Zinfandel’s success has given rise to many other blush wines in California, such as Cabernet Blush, or White Cabernet; White Merlot; and Grenache Rosé, or White Grenache. All blush wines are fairly similar in style.

    Serious, dry rosés

    Serious California rosés include all rosé wines made in a dryer style. They retail for over $10, generally in the $12 to $20 range — as opposed to sweeter rosés and blush wines, which are almost always under $10. They can come from any red grape variety, and they might or might not be labeled with the name of the grape. The varieties most frequently used for California rosés are Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Grenache, and Syrah (the last two often blended together).

    Two French terms you sometimes see on California rosé labels are oeil de perdrix (meaning “eye of the partridge”) and vin gris (“gray wine”), both referring to color. These terms usually apply to very pale rosé wines that are often dryer than deeper-colored rosés.

    White Zinfandel

    White Zinfandel isn’t selling at the same frenzied pace that it did in the 1980s and 1990s, but it’s still the third best-selling varietal wine in California, just slightly behind Cabernet Sauvignon and well behind Chardonnay. Winemakers produce White Zinfandel by draining the grape juice from the dark skins before the juice has had the chance to absorb more than a pale pink color.

    Although wine connoisseurs scorn White Zinfandel as something more akin to a beverage than a real wine, it’s certainly special to the many thousands who drink it. The wine offers sweetness, fruitiness, moderate alcohol levels, and no tannin, for a mild-tasting wine that doesn’t bite. White Zinfandel is the perfect wine for you if you find most wines too dry or astringent.

    White Zinfandel’s color ranges from pale pink to a dark rose, and depending on the producer, the wine can vary in sweetness from off-dry to quite sweet. As a general rule, paler White Zins tend to be less sweet, and very pink ones tend to be sweeter. Regardless of hue, they’re always soft in texture and low in alcohol. White Zinfandel is a wine to drink cold, and it’s a wine to drink while it’s young and fresh; buy the most recent vintage you can find, and chill it.

    Wine Articles

    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).

    Wine Articles

    The Wines of California's Sonoma County

    California's Sonoma County succeeds with many diverse wines, but Sonoma's two most renowned wines are Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. Many wine critics believe that the nation’s best Pinot Noirs come from Sonoma’s Russian River Valley.

    Other wine regions also have a Pinot following: Carneros and the Sonoma Coast, in Sonoma County; Santa Barbara; Santa Lucia Highlands; Mendocino’s Anderson Valley; and Oregon’s Willamette Valley, for example. But Russian River Pinot Noirs have a combination of richness, voluptuousness, balance, and elegance that’s hard to beat.

    Zinfandel is truly California’s wine. Even though the grape’s genetic origin has been traced to Croatia, most of the world’s Zinfandels, red and pink, are Californian. And most wine experts agree that a majority of the best Zins (as they’re called for short) hail from Sonoma. Dry Creek Valley is particularly famous for Zinfandel.

    Sonoma County’s climate

    Sonoma’s vineyards and wineries extend from Carneros in the south to Alexander Valley in the north — a much larger area than Napa Valley’s. Because Sonoma is so large, and because it has both coastal and interior wine districts, its climate varies from one wine district to another more than Napa’s climate does.

    In fact, the varied climate and soils of Sonoma offer more different types of wine than any other wine region in California. Following are some examples:

    • The vineyard areas of Alexander Valley and Geyserville (in the north) and the Sonoma Mountain area (farther south) can be quite warm and dry, and they’re ideal growing regions for Cabernet Sauvignon.

    • The cooler regions, such as the Russian River Valley, Green Valley, Forestville, and the Sonoma Coast, produce excellent Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, and sparkling wines.

    • Temperate areas in Sonoma grow Zinfandel, Syrah, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Petite Sirah, to name a few of the more prominent varieties.

    Popular Sonoma County wines

    A short drive from one of Sonoma’s viticultural areas to another can be a revelation: Each area seems to specialize in different wines. The following are the 11 distinct AVAs in Sonoma County, listed approximately from south to north, and the wines that are most renowned there:

    • Los Carneros (partly in Napa Valley): Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Merlot, sparkling wine

    • Sonoma Valley: Chardonnay

    • Sonoma Mountain: Cabernet Sauvignon

    • Bennett Valley: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot

    • Green Valley (within Russian River Valley): Sparkling wine, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir

    • Russian River Valley: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, sparkling wine, Zinfandel

    • Knights Valley: Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc

    • Chalk Hill (within Russian River Valley): Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc

    • Dry Creek Valley: Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon

    • Alexander Valley: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc

    • Rockpile: Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah