Less than an hour outside of San Francisco, Napa is easily California’s most famous region. Nearly 500 wineries can be found among the region’s lush, rolling hills and fog kissed vineyards, including some of the state’s most famous: Mondavi, Beringer, Opus One, Stag’s Leap. While dense, massive Cabernet Sauvignon wines are what put this region on the map, Napa also produces excellent Chardonnay, Merlot and more.
This massive region, stretching from the border with Napa all the way up to the Pacific Ocean. While Sonoma is California’s largest producer of Pinot Noir, its vast size and diversity of climate allows for a wide variety of grapes to be grown here, from crisp Chardonnay along the coast to intense Zinfandel.
One of California’s most northerly wine regions, home to giant redwoods, rugged coastline and supple Pinot Noir, the Mendocino region is also one of its most climactically diverse. In addition to being recognized as one of California’s best regions for sparkling wine, Mendocino winemakers are also experimenting with everything from Riesling and Semillon to Grenache and Tempranillo.
A relatively new wine growing region, they’ve only been producing wine on a commercial scale here since the 1960s, Monterey County has quickly developed a reputation for producing some of the state’s most refined and intriguing Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Stretching from Monterey Bay to Paso Robles, the region is renowned for its relatively cool, stable climate, making it a winemaker’s dream.
This small but influential region along the coast south of San Francisco is renowned for the quality of its Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay grapes. The area is also known for its sustainable and organic grape growing and winemaking practices.
America’s fastest growing wine region, there are currently 200 wineries producing exceptional Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon as well as some superb Rhone varieties like Syrah and Viognier. Halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Paso Robles, in the heart of the Central Coast, is considered by many to be California wine’s next big thing.
One of the world’s iconic wines, Zinfandel remains nearly synonymous with California. This chameleon grape variety can be made in a wide range of styles; from soft and fruity to full, spicy and tannic.
You’ll Experience: Although the grape lends itself to a variety of styles, it is typically expressed as a very full bodied and lush wine with heaps of liquorice, cherry, sweet baking spices and black pepper.
Try It With: Sweet Italian sausages with roasted peppers or short ribs with Chinese five spice.
Cabernet Sauvignon is grown all around the wine world, but California has a special affinity for it. It's the state’s most widely planted red wine grape, fashioned here in a distinct, fruit-forward style all its own.
You’ll Experience: This is a deep and full-bodied grape with plenty of rich tannins. Dark, ripe berries are elevated by tobacco and cedar aromas.
Try It With: A great steak fresh off the grill and covered in sautéed mushrooms or a caramelized onion tart with olives and fresh goat cheese.
Merlot was brought over to California from France in the mid-19th century.
You’ll Experience: Fruit forward and medium bodied, California Merlot offers plum, vanilla and leather aromas typically underpinned by mocha and black cherry notes.
Try It With: Greek style lamb sausage with smoky baba ganoush or rib eye steaks with miso mirin butter.
California’s most widely planted grape has undergone a significant style change as it moves away from the buttery, oaky, lush style that it was long renowned for towards something fresher and more carefully balanced.
You’ll Experience: Apple, peach and almond flavours are typical while oak aging brings out the grape’s vanilla and toasted coconut flavours.
Try It With: The big barrel-fermented, barrel aged examples are well suited to grilled salmon (with hollandaise sauce or mango salsa), veal and lobster with drawn butter. Fruitier, crisper, unoaked or lightly oaked chardonnays are great with delicate shellfish, poultry, ham or pasta in a creamy sauce.
Loved throughout the world for its fresh, racy style, Sauvignon Blanc thrives in California’s warm vineyards.
You’ll Experience: Crisp and citrusy, with lime and grapefruit flavours, this elegant grape often shows white flower and melon aromas.
Try It With: Whole grilled branzino with lemon and mint or shrimp tacos with fresh avocado.
Pinot Gris is quickly growing into one of California’s most popular grapes, and the warmer climate leads to the expressions that are a little riper, more rounded and lower in acidity than found in cooler climates.
You’ll Experience: Soft and subtle lime, pear and apple are the flavours most associated with California Pinot Gris. Honey and almond aromas are also common in this crisp grape.
Try It With: A silky plate of carbonara or clams casino would make great pairings for this versatile grape.