Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Ultimate Guide to Napa Valley

Napa Valley Grapes

California contains a whopping 107 American Viticultural Are­as (AVAs). Napa Valley received the very first designation and has continued to improve on its reputation ever since. Although Napa is best known for full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignons, other popular wines produced include Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel [source: Wine Institute].

The primary grape varieties of Napa Valley include:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon is rich in color, depth and aroma, which can make for a wonderfully complex wine.
  • Chardonnay is a classic, dry white wine grape, and is one of the three grape types used to make Champagne.
  • Chenin Blanc is known for its high sugar content, good acidity level and thin skin. It is often used for sparkling or sweet wines. However, some dry wines, such as Savennieres, are made from this grape.
  • Merlot is known for its fruity lusciousness and velvet quality.
  • Pinot Noir makes a rich, very smooth wine. Flavors can range from cherry to strawberry, depending upon climate and ripeness.
  • Sauvignon Blanc makes aromatic, dry wine, but it is also used in sweeter and fruity Sauternes and Barsac.
  • White Riesling makes a light-bodied, intensely flavored wine that is lower in alcohol.
  • Zinfandel has a berry-like character. Wine from this grape can range from light and elegant in white or rose to massive and tannic in red [source: Stevenson].

Napa Valley secondary grape varieties include: Aleatico, Alicante Bouschet, Barbera, Black Malvoisie, Burger, Cabernet Franc, Carignan, Early Burgundy, Colombard, Flora, Folle Blanche, Gamay, Gamay Beaujolais, Gewurztraminer, Gray Riesling, Green Hungarian, Grenache, Malbec, Malvasia Bianca, Mataro, Mission, Muscat Blanc, Palomino, Petite Sirah, Pinot Blanc, Pinot St. George, Ruby Cabernet, Sauvignon Vert, Semillon, Sylvander and Syrah [source: Stevenson]. Additional lesser-known grapes are also used to produce incredible wines in the region.

If you want to go to California to purchase the wine yourself, we can help point you in the right direction. Read on to learn about famous Napa Valley Wineries.