Napa and Sonoma Feature
- Places to Explore
- Travel Tips
- Fodor's Choice
A Grape Primer
Well more than 50 varieties of grapes are grown in the California Wine Country. Although you don't need to be on a first-name basis with them all, you'll see the following dozen again and again as you visit the wineries.
Chardonnay. Now as firmly associated with California wine making as it is with Burgundy, where it's used extensively. California chardonnays spent many years chasing big, buttery flavor, but the current trend is toward more restrained wines.
Gewürztraminer. Cooler California climes such as the Russian River valley are great for growing this German-Alsatian grape, which is turned into a boldly perfumed, fruity wine.
Riesling. This cool-climate German grape has a sweet rep in America. When made in a dry style, as it more and more often is, it can be crisply refreshing, with lush aromas.
Sauvignon Blanc. Hails from Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. Wines made from this grape vary widely, from herbaceous to tropical-fruity.
Viognier. Once rarely planted outside of France's Rhône Valley, it's one of the hottest white-wine varietals in California today. The best viogniers have an intense fruity or floral bouquet; they're usually dry.
Cabernet Franc. Most often used in blends, often to add complexity to cabernet sauvignon, this French grape can produce aromatic, soft, and subtle wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon. The king of California reds, this Bordeaux grape grows best in austere, well-drained soils. At its best, the California version is dark, bold, and tannic, with black-currant notes. It's often blended with cabernet franc, merlot, and other red varieties to soften the resulting wine and make it ready for earlier drinking.
Merlot. A blue-black Bordeaux variety that in California makes soft, full-bodied wine. Was well on its way to being the most popular red until anti-merlot jokes in the movie Sideways damaged its rep, but it's staged for a comeback.
Pinot Noir. The darling of grape growers in cooler parts of Napa and Sonoma, such as the Carneros region and the Russian River valley. At its best it has a subtle but addictive earthy quality.
Sangiovese. The main red grape of Italy's Chianti District and of much of central Italy. It can be made into vibrant, light- to medium-bodied wines, as well as into long-lived, very complex reds. Increasingly planted in California.
Syrah. A big red from France's Rhône Valley. With good tannins it can become a full-bodied beauty, but without them it can be flabby and forgettable. Also known as shiraz, particularly when it's grown in Australia.
Zinfandel. A quintessential California grape. Rich, jammy, and often spicy, zinfandel wines can be quite high in alcohol.
Free Fodor's Newsletter
Subscribe today for weekly travel inspiration, tips, and special offers.
Fodor's Trip Planning Ideas
- Weekend Getaways: Fodor's Recommends the Best Weekend Escapes in the US
- Great American Vacation: Find Your Next U.S. Trip with Fodor's
- 80 Degrees: Fodor's Helps You Find Your Best Beach Vacation Spots
- Go List: Fodor's Top 25 Places to Go in 2013
- Hotel Awards 2012: Fodor's 100 Top Hotels
- Best of Europe: Fodor's Picks the Best Places to Visit in Europe
- $89.00 & up : 4-star hotels in Santa Rosa Hotwire
- Special deal: 3.5-Star Hilton Sonoma Wine Country Fr $216+/Nt Save with Expedia, $43/night less
- $31.95 & up : Midsize rentals in Santa Rosa Hotwire
- $97.00 & up : 3.5-star hotels in Santa Rosa — $97 Hotwire
- $36.95 & up : Full Size rentals in Santa Rosa — $37 Hotwire