California Grape Varietals

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Grape Varietals in California.


Cabernet Sauvignon:

This varietal is originally from France, and is perhaps the best known of the grapes in California. The resulting wines are medium to full-bodied reds that require a long aging process to completely develop to their potential.

Chardonnay:

Probably the most famous grape in the world and produce some of the great dry white wines-white Burgundies. With only a few exceptions it grows in virtually every wine-producing country. The Chardonnay grape produces arguably the most well-known wine product in the world.

This easy-to-grow varietal can flourish in a wide range of soils, and its vines produce fruit that is made into wines that can be sold economically around the world. It grows in unrelenting heat to coolish, damp growing conditions.

Chardonnay is a medium to full-bodied dry white wine, which readily absorbs the flavor of the oak in the aging process. According to whim of the winemaker, this wine offers the ability to create a wide diversity of styles that can appeal to many palates.

The wine is also one of the trio of wines used in the production of sparkling wines, the others being Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.

Chardonnay is the most widely planted grape in the Napa and Sonoma wine country, and in 1976 a California Chardonnay won the Paris Blind tasting test of 1976, beatiing out the French white burgundies.The result is the stuff of legend.

Chenin Blanc:

Traditionally popular in France, this varietal produces light to medium bodied mildly sweet wine. Although not as popular in California as some other, better known wines, I personally enjoy its bouquet, and the hint of oak that comes from the aging process.

Gamay:

Red grapes. Our Gamays in California are not considered true Gamays. They go by the names of Napa Gamay and Gamay Beaujolais. Wine is deep a color, low in tannin.

Gewurtzraminer:

This grape produces white wines similar to Johhanisberg Reisling, deep colored, aromatic, an aroma of roses, with a sweet character. Grows well in cooler climates, such as the north coast. Gewurtzaminer is toned down a bit in the United States, as compared to that grown in Alsace. California also produces a dry version.

Occasionally produces late harvest wines.

Merlot:

Deep color, full body, low tannin, high alcohol content. Frequently used as a blending wine to smooth out other grapes, it has grown in popularity in the past two decades. Especially helped by reports of its health benefits. Fruitier than Chardonnay.

Pinot Blanc:

Another French varietal, in California it results in a wine not unlike some Chardonnays, with a light fruity bouquet. Frequently underrated, it presents as a white wine with character that does not need long aging.

Pinot Noir:

Silky always comes to my mind when describing Pinot Noir.

Originally from Alsace, and the only red grape in the region, pinot noir grapes, difficult to grow are made into light to medium bodied red wines. This varietal is tricky and has taken California vintners several decades of experimentation to see positive results. In California the cool climates of the central coast wineries, such as those in Monterey, Carneros, and the Santa Maria Valley produce some remarkable Pinot Noirs.

Riesling:

Also called Johannisberg or white Riesling.

A German mainstay that has branched out to other wine areas in the world. Brought to California in the mid 19th century by German immigrants; it is often used to make late-harvest wine.

Not as popular as some of the other wines, nevertheless, one should not miss the experience of this light-hearted, refreshing noble grape.

Low to medium alcohol, aromas ranging from flowery to fruity, high acidity, are recognizable characteristics of Riesling wines. Sometimes slight minerality.



Sangiovese:

Increasingly popular in California, this is a light to full-bodied red wine delivers a fruity aroma, especially cherry, sometimes a hint of violet, or a nutty flavor. Originally from Italy.

Sauvignon Blanc:

Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp wine with a distinctive flavor, high acidity, and range in flavor from grassy to tart or in warmer climates a fruity flavor, referred to as ripe melon. The wines are light to medium-bodied. In California the wines are most often aged in oak.

Syrah:

Red varietal, dark, rich, medium to full-bodied wines with a firm tannin and aromas that suggest pepper, spice, fruit flavors and sometimes, I'm told, tar or burnt rubber! I have never had the pleasure of "savoring" the last two aromas, but I have heard tales...Personally, I love this wine, especially its cherry, and blackberry fruity flavors.

Petit Sirah:

Grown in warmer regions in California, another wine whose origins are a mystery.This grape is mainstay for "jug wines" from the Central Valley, which gained a huge market in the mid 20th century.

Further north where it is cooler, old vines produce a full bodied and very popular red.

Zinfandel:

  • White: Very popular, and better known than the red version. The grape, however, is red.

  • The Zinfandel is one of the oldest grapes in California, but it is not a native variety here and its origins are uncertain, although one theory suggests Eastern Europe. Frequently aged in oak.

  • Red Zin is a deeply colored wine, high in alcohol content and medium to high in tannins. Generally has a fruity, or spicy flavor. Some Zinfandels are meant to be consumed while young, and others must be aged.

Viognier:

Light and crisp white wine considered a rising star in California, and produced as one of the offerings from the Livermore Valley and other regions. The wine offers an apricot, sometimes mango or peach floral aroma with slight acidity and medium to full body.


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