Are you looking for the best wine varieties but don’t have a good Napa Valley Wine Guide? We’ve got your solution! Although there are more than 10,000 identified varieties of grapes around the world; 40 of the word’s very best are grown in Napa Valley! The most commonly grown grapes in Napa are Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, but you’ll find a bit of everything from Albariño to Zinfandel. This article isn’t about discussing individual grape varieties — such as Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc. This merely serves as a general guide for wine varieties, so that you can try more of what you like when you take your Napa Valley wine tour!
Did you know that if the winemaker were to remove the skins of the grapes before fermenting the wine, that ALL wine would be white wine? It’s true. Next time you bite into a juicy, red grape, take a peek inside. It’s as white as any Chardonnay or Muscat. The skin holds and delivers the color, as well as the tannin. Tannin is the somewhat bitter flavor and ‘dryness’ associated with red wines, and also delivers the texture of the wine. Darker reds have higher levels of tannin, while white wines are simply those with less tannin. Red wine varieties include Barbera, Cab-Franc, Cab-Sav, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and Zinfandel. Tannin is also the reason we don’t chill red wine. Tannin tends to get more bitter (but not in the dry, good way) when served cold.
By default, white wine is that with less tannin. Oh, it has tannin, but in far less quantities. The taste of white wines are defined more by the acidity of the grapes, delivering those tones of tartness and crispness. Wines that lack these qualities are often classified as ‘flat.’ White wines include Chardonnay, Muscat, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillion.
Rose, also called ‘blush,’ is created by allowing the skins of the red grapes to sit in the wine for a little while, but not left permanently, as when making red wines. Rose is still much closer to a white wine than a red, however, when it comes to tannin content and the dryness and texture of red wines. Hence, you serve blush/rose wines chilled, as you would a white wine. Varieties of rose include Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and Zinfandel.
Dessert wines are sweet, and as their name would indicate, are usually served following a meal, for or with a dessert. Most dessert wines are fortified by adding alcohol (often brandy). Flavors associated with a good dessert wine include caramel, butter, and richness. Examples of dessert wines (also called fortified wines, due to the addition of alcohol) include Madeira, Marsala, Port, Sherry, and Vermouth.
Some sparkling wines are naturally carbonated during the process of fermenting the wine. Other wines are carbonated via the addition of carbon dioxide after fermenting is complete. These wines vary considerably in sweetness, from Brut Nature to Sweet or Doux/Dulce. Both red and white grapes are used to make sparkling wines. Champagne is an example of a sparkling wine, but it must be from Champagne, France to qualify as actual ‘Champagne’. Another example of sparkling wine is Pinot Noir.
Don’t let the fancy word ‘varietal’ fool you. It just means wines that are classified by the variety of grapes they’re made from. Varietal wines are distinguished from blended wines, though many do contain a blend of at least one other grape variety. For example, if you buy a Cabernet Sauvignon, at least three-quarters of the wine will be made from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. Blended wines, on the other hand, generally contain less than 75% of any one particular grape. The problem with buying wines solely based on grape variety is that there is positively zero assurance of consistency. You could be buying from an inferior or superior winemaker, or buying a vintage (year) when the weather was more or less suitable for healthy vineyards. Similarly, the finished wine varies widely according to what other grape varieties are used in the winemaking. So, you can expect a varietal wine like Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling, and others to vary considerably from one bottle to another, from one winery to another, from one year to another, and from one region to another.
Just as a varietal wine is named for its mother grape, a regional wine is so named from the region where it is grown. We’ve discussed one of the most notable examples: Champagne from Champagne, France. Hardcore wine connoisseurs cringe if you call a sparkling wine from Napa Valley ‘Champagne’. Most wine labels include the region where the grapes were grown, even if the wine isn’t marketed as ‘regional”. True regional wines include Burgundy (France), Bordeaux (France), and Barolo (Italy). As with varietal wines, regional wines can vary tremendously from winery to winery, vintage to vintage, and grape to grape. For example, there are both red (Pinot Noir) and white (Chardonnay) Burgundy wines. Bordeaux is typically a blended wine, often made with a concoction of Cab-Franc, Cab-Sav, Malbec, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, depending on the fancy of the winemaker. Barolos typically come from the Nebiolo variety of grape, while Champagne is generally a combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir.
Whether you’re in the market to try new reds, invest in some fabulous dessert wines, or sample a variety of different varietals, Napa Valley is the place to be. As the premier wine destination in North America, it caters to more than 3 million wine tourists a year — just like you! Contact us at Allure Wine Tours for the ultimate in customized Napa Valley Wine Tours!