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Napa Valley, California

Wine

The Wines of The Napa Valley

The Napa Valley's climate and soil have made it one of the world's great winegrowing regions. It has long been famous for its ability to grow Bordeaux grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Later it was discovered that the southern part of the valley, particularly the Carneros region next to San Francisco Bay, was ideal for growing the grapes of Burgundy, including Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Other popular wines include Merlot, Zinfandel, Riesling, Petite Sirah, Gamay Beaujolais and Chenin Blanc, and some wineries are producing Semillon, Cabernet Franc and Muscat, Recently there has been a return to the old Italian grapes that were once grown in the valley, and wineries are beginning to produce such wines as Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese, Grignolino and Dolcetto.

There are also a number of wineries that produce sparkling wines, and a few produce only "sparklers."

Wine Varietal Basics

By: Jon V. Sévigny

Thanks to Jon V. Sévigny, Sommelier at JV Wine & Spirits (www.jvwine.com) in Napa for permission to use the following excellent information on wine varietals produced in the Napa Valley.


Learning about wine is a lot like work and you are never done learning. Part of what I love is knowing that there is always something new out there that I have never tried before. And, part of what I hate is having a snooty winery representative correct my pronunciation of an Italian grape or French village and realizing that I have been pronouncing it wrong for 10 years. So, if you have ever gone into a wine store and asked for Viognier as (ve-gin-ear) instead of (vee-oh-nay), here is a reference that should help. I have compiled 22 of the most common grape varieties used to make wine along with pronunciation, a brief description, food pairing suggestions and serving temperatures.

White Wines

Chardonnay

Chardonnay is the most popular of all white wine grapes and produces a medium to full-bodied wine. Its flavors are often described as being appley, buttery or nutty, with nuances of melon or tropical fruit. Many of the finest full-bodied Chardonnay wines are produced from grapes grown in California or Australia. In France, the clean and crisp White Burgundy and Chablis are made exclusively from Chardonnay.

Enjoy with seafood, poultry, pork, salads, brie and other semi-soft cheeses. The amount of time spent in oak determines the style of the Chardonnay. The less oak, the lighter and crisper it is. The oakier the wine, the richer the food with which you need to pair it.

Serve chilled—but not too cold. Chardonnay shows best at 52 to 55 degrees; so pull it out of the refrigerator and let it warm up before serving.

Chenin Blanc

Is used for making anything from dry to sweet wines. This grape produces Vouvray and other fine white wines in the Loire Valley of France. They are known for their high acidity and high viscosity. Look for good California examples from Chappellet and Pine Ridge.

Another good aperitif wine, good with grilled fish, shellfish, shrimp, scallops, lighter poultry dishes and other light fare.

Like Chardonnay, serve it chilled—but not too cold. It shows best at 52 to 55 degrees; so pull it out of the refrigerator and let it warm up before serving.

Gewürztraminer

Produces a floral, refreshing, spicy wine that can vary from dry to sweet. The best Gewürztraminer is produced in the Alsace region of France. When harvested late, it can produce a rich and complex desert wine.

Enjoy with spicy foods, smoked meats and other pungent dishes. Like Riesling, it complements Thai food or spicy Chinese or Middle Eastern dishes.

Serve this wine well-chilled at 44 to 48 degrees, just above refrigerator temperature

Pinot Blanc

Produces wine similar in body and taste to Chardonnay. Much of the wine produced by these grapes is used for blending or in sparkling wines but many California wineries are now producing excellent pure Pinot Blanc wines.

Excellent sipping wine or enjoy with fish, shrimp, chicken, lobster, dinner salads and other light fare.

Serve this wine well chilled at 44 to 48 degrees, just above refrigerator temperature

Pinot Gris

The Pinot Gris grape lends itself to a variety of styles, from a light aperitif to a rich dessert wine. It produces dry wines of character in the Alsace region of France called Tokay de Alsace. It is known in Italy as Pinot Grigio, a light-bodied, dry white wine. Look for excellent Pinot Gris from Oregon and Washington States.

Riesling

The Riesling grape produces a light to medium-bodied white wine with a great deal of honeyed fruit flavors. Styles of Riesling can vary from off dry to very sweet. When harvested late, it can produce a rich and complex desert wine. Good Rieslings are exceptional wines that improve with age. Wine Guy Note: Not all Rieslings are sticky sweet. Dry Riesling makes great food wine—try the Boony Doon Pacific Rim from California or the Giesen from New Zealand.

Enjoy with spicy foods, smoked meats and other pungent dishes. Try a dry Riesling with Thai food or spicy Chinese or Middle Eastern dishes.

Serve this wine well-chilled at 45 to 48 degrees, just above refrigerator temperature.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc grapes produce a crisp, refreshing wine with a variety of fruit flavors. Sometimes known as Fumé Blanc in North America, this wine is produced in France, New Zealand, California and Australia. This is a food-friendly wine that loves garlic.

Wonderful summer sipping wine or enjoy with fish, shrimp, chicken, lobster, dinner salads and other light fare. Raw oysters or shrimp cocktail might be a perfect match.

Serve this wine well chilled at 42 to 48 degrees, just above refrigerator temperature.

Semillon

A white wine grape grown primarily in France, California and Australia's Hunter Valley. It produces a full-bodied wine and is often used to blend with Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay.

Excellent sipping wine or enjoy with fish, shrimp, chicken, lobster, dinner salads and other light fare.

Like Chardonnay, serve it chilled—but not too cold. It shows best at 52 to 55 degrees; so pull it out of the refrigerator and let it warm up before serving.

Viognier

Produces a dry wine with a bouquet of pears, peaches and flower blossoms. It is grown to perfection in the Rhone Valley in France, and successfully in Australia and California.

An excellent aperitif wine, good with shellfish, shrimp, scallops, light poultry dishes or a summer salad.

Serve this wine well-chilled at 42 to 48 degrees, just above refrigerator temperature.

Red Wines

Barbera

A red wine grape from the Piedmont region of Italy that produces Barbera d' Asti and Barbera d' Alba. It is also cultivated in California. Barbera produces a red wine with deep color, a light to medium-body, high acidity, light tannins and good fruit flavor.

Enjoy this wine with lamb, pork, chicken or almost any pasta dish.

Try this at cellar temperature, 58 to 63 degrees. If you don't have a cellar, put it in the refrigerator for 20 to 25 minutes before serving.

Cabernet Franc

Produces a full bodied wine with raspberry flavor and an herbal bouquet that, while softer, can be as full-bodied and intense as Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Although used primarily for blending, especially in Bordeaux, it also stands well on its own and is the primary grape in the Chinon wines of the Loire Valley in France.

Pair it with any food you would normally serve with Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Serve it just above cellar temperature, at 62 to 67 degrees. If you don't have a cellar, put it in the refrigerator for 10 minutes before serving.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is the most famous of all red wine grapes. It produces medium to full-bodied, dry, deeply colored red wine, possessing flavors of black fruits and aromas of cedar. Cabernet is the basis for the great red wines of the Bordeaux region of France as well as the Cabernet and Cabernet blends from California and Australia.

Enjoy with beef, game, duck and hearty pasta dishes—big wine for big food.

Cabernet shows best at just above cellar temperature, at 62 to 67 degrees. If you don't have a cellar, put it in the refrigerator for 10 minutes before serving.

Gamay

Used to produce the famous wines of Beaujolais. Gamay produces a light, brightly-colored red wine with abundant fruit flavors. It is best drunk very young.

Gamay pairs with all the same foods as Pinot Noir. Think of it as an alternative when the food says white and your head says red.

Gamay is best served at or slightly below cellar temperature, 56 to 62 degrees. Put it in the refrigerator for 25 to 30 minutes before serving.

Grenache

Produces a red wine which is rich in spicy fruit flavors, full-bodied, lightly-colored and low in tannin. Grenache is most often thought of a blending grape and is a major component of most wines in the southern Rhone Valley of France. It also can produce a short-lived, but very pleasant pure varietal.

Enjoy this wine with lamb, pork, chicken, cassoulet or almost any French country fare.

Try this at cellar temperature, 58 to 63 degrees. If you don't have a cellar, put it in the refrigerator for 20 to 25 minutes before serving

Merlot

The Merlot grape produces a luscious medium-bodied red wine with a soft texture and rich fruity flavors that are approachable at a much younger age than Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot grapes are often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to soften the wine and make it more drinkable at an earlier age.

Merlot styles vary based upon ripeness and the use of oak. California Merlots tend to be bigger-bodied and higher alcohol (13.5% to 15%) that makes for easy, stand alone sipping. Look for lower alcohol (12.5% to 13.5%) contents and medium-body to pair with food. Enjoy with red meats, game dishes, pork or rabbit.

Merlot shows best at just above cellar temperature, at 62 to 67 degrees. If you don't have a cellar, put it in the refrigerator for 10 minutes before serving.

Mourvedere

Produces a wine with flavors of plum and black currants, with a spicy herbal taste. It is a principle component of the wines of Bandol in France, is used as a blending grape in the Rhone valley and is also grown in California and Australia.

Like Grenache, enjoy this wine with lamb, pork, chicken, cassoulet or almost any French country fare.

Try this at cellar temperature, 58 to 63 degrees. If you don't have a cellar put it in the refrigerator for 20 to 25 minutes before serving.

Nebbolio

The great black grape from Northern Italy. Nebbolio is used to produce the long-lived Barolo and Barbaresco wines in Piedmont. Known for its flavors of chocolate and licorice, along with a floral bouquet, this grape produces some of Italy's best red wines. It is also now being cultivated in California.

This is excellent food wine; enjoy it with beef, pork, veal, chicken or pasta.

Barolos and Barbarescos are best served just slightly above cellar temperature, 62 to 66 degrees. If you don't have a cellar, put it in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Petite Sirah

Produces a dark, fruity, full-bodied red wine. This grape is grown primarily in warm weather regions, particularly in California. Full-bodied with firm tannins, Petite Sirah can be a very long-lived wine.

Hearty wine for hearty food, serve it with beef, pork, duck, game, pizza or with any spicy cuisines like Thai or Indian.

Serve just-above cellar temperature, at 62 to 67 degrees. If you don't have a cellar, put it in the refrigerator for 10 minutes before serving.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is one of the world's great varieties of grapes. In France, Pinot Noir is used to produce what the world knows as Burgundy. It produces a delicious soft to medium-bodied dry red wine, filled with complex flavors of fruit and spice. A cooler weather grape, Pinot Noir is the most difficult of all grapes to cultivate and produce wine with. The best domestic Pinot Noirs are made in Oregon. A Wine Guy caution: When it's good, it's very good and when it's bad—yuk! It may taste like cross between battery acid and asparagus. Be careful choosing California Pinot Noirs...

Enjoy with lamb, turkey, pork and pasta with cream sauces. I think of it as the best alternative when the food says white and your head says red. Try it with grilled salmon.

Pinot Noir is best served at cellar temperature, 58 to 63 degrees. If you don't have a cellar, put it in the refrigerator for 20 to 25 minutes before serving.

Sangiovese

Sangiovese is the most widely planted red grape of Tuscany in Italy, and the primary component of Chianti. Sangiovese is now being successfully grown in California and produces a versatile, fruity, medium-bodied, dry red wine. Italian Chianti and Sangiovese tend to be higher in acidity, making them good food wines but a little astringent for just sipping. California Sangiovese tends to be riper and less acidic.

This is the ultimate food wine; enjoy it with beef, pork, veal, chicken, pasta or anything Italian!

Sangiovese is best served just above cellar temperature, 65 to 68 degrees. If you don't have a cellar, put it in the refrigerator for 20 to 25 minutes before serving.

Syrah / Shiraz

Syrah is the great black grape of the Rhone region of France where it is a primary component in the blended wines of Rhone valley. Syrah produces a rich, deeply fruity, full-bodied, dry red wine of great complexity. It is known as Syrah in California and Shiraz in Australia.

Because of its full-body soft tannins, Shiraz makes a great stand-alone wine or enjoy it with hearty dishes, beef, pork, duck, game, pizza or BBQ! Also makes good accompaniment for spicy cuisines like Thai or Indian.

Shiraz is best at just-above cellar temperature, at 62 to 67 degrees. If you don't have a cellar, put it in the refrigerator for 10 minutes before serving.

Zinfandel

Zinfandel is used to produce the only wine considered truly American. While probably of obscure European origin, Zinfandel produces a big, jammy, spicy and complex red wine, with a full body and soft finish. Zinfandel can produce anything from a dry, claret-style to dense, chewy, high-alcohol reds. It is also used to produce a "blush" wine, usually marketed as White Zinfandel, a fruity, light pink wine.

A nice stand-alone "glass on the deck" kind of red. Big wine for big food or enjoy with pizza, red meats, BBQ or pasta with red sauce.

Zinfandel is best at just above cellar temperature, at 62 to 67 degrees. If you don't have a cellar, put it in the refrigerator for 10 minutes before serving.

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