Though Napa Valley winemakers craft wine
from Albariño to Zinfandel, here are the top
five varieties in descending order.
Cabernet Sauvignon
is the acknowledged
“king” of red grapes in Napa Valley. Some
Napa Valley Cabernet vines from the 19th
century are still producing, but most were
replanted in the last 20 years. Cabernet
Sauvignon is a complex grape; its character
can emerge as black currants, green olives,
herbs, bell peppers or combinations of these
with mint and leather. These wines age beau-
tifully. When young they are best matched
with robust red meat dishes; older Cabernets
are superb accompaniments to roasts and
steaks, and also complement many cheeses.
Chardonnay
is the most widely planted
white grape variety in Napa Valley. Chardon-
nays from Napa Valley have repeatedly im-
pressed the international wine world—think
Judgment of Paris. Napa Valley producers
makes several styles of Chardonnay, rang-
ing from fresh and crisp to rich and complex
with layers of flavors. With such a wide range
of interpretation, Napa Valley Chardonnays
accompany a variety of dishes, from simply
prepared seafood to lighter red meats.
Merlot
has long been grown in Napa Valley.
Traditionally used as a blending wine, Merlot
gained popularity in the early 1980s. Merlot
shows lovely cherry-like aromas with hints of
sibling Cabernet’s herbaceousness. Because
tannins are often softer than those found in
Cabernet, it tends to be drinkable at an ear-
lier age. At the same time, Merlot can age,
gaining finesse and complexity. Serve Merlot
with any dish that calls for hearty red wine or
try it with lighter meats such as pork or veal.
Sauvignon Blanc
has become increasingly
popular as it has a distinctive character, of-
ten described as fruity and crisp with very
good acidity. These wines can be found in
a range of styles — those that are crisp and
“grassy” and others that have a ripe pine-
apple richness augmented by a touch of oak
from short barrel aging. Because of its acid-
ity, Sauvignon Blanc is enjoyable with sea-
food, spicy cuisines or refreshing on a warm
summer day.
Pinot Noir
has been known as fickle, chal-
lenging the winemaker vintage to vintage,
but the elusive wine is prized. Pinot Noir is
less tannic and has less pigment than Cab-
ernet or Merlot, so the wines are somewhat
lighter. They can be very drinkable at two to
five years of age and the best will improve
for several years after.
CHIEF GRAPE VARIETIES
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