Napa Valley is arguably America’s most celebrated wine region, acclaimed for its exceptional terroir and high-quality wines. The region is relatively small, but incredibly diverse, with undulating valleys and mountain peaks rising to over 2,000 feet.
What makes Napa Valley so special?
Located just fifty miles from San Francisco, the southern end of the Napa Valley starts in its namesake town of Napa where winds from the San Pablo Bay keep temperatures at a pleasant 20ºC. The region extends roughly thirty miles north to the town of Calistoga, where temperatures can soar to over 37ºC.
With such a fluctuation in temperature over a small region, the Napa Valley has favourable growing conditions for many grape varieties. It’s especially well-known for its Cabernet Sauvignon production – plus warm-weather grapes such as Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as cooler-climate grapes like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
It’s this diversity in temperatures that make Napa Valley wines so special, and attracts over 650 grape growers to the region, producing many exceptional still and sparkling wines.
Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Making up almost sixty per cent of the region’s vines, Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular grape variety and thrives on both the hillside and valley floor.
Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon typically produces notes of juicy black fruits such as black cherry, blackcurrant, and blackcurrant, with overtones of vanilla.
Most of the wines produced from vines on the hillsides are full-bodied, rich in tannins and intensely coloured, while those from vineyards located in the valley are more likely to be medium-bodied with lower tannin levels.
Top Cabernet Sauvignon picks:
Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon 2017/18: £8.25 per 75cl bottle / ABV 14.5% – An affordable and highly drinkable wine from Sonoma, this rich, ripe Cabernet Sauvignon is bursting with the flavours of rich plum and plump black fruits with aromas of cedar and spice. Best served at room temperature after decanting for an hour and enjoyed with barbecued pork ribs.
Kirkland Signature Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2018: £20.85 per 75cl bottle 75cl / ABV% 14.5% – Produced by the Susco Vineyard where the cool mountain climate produces a full, rich Cabernet Sauvignon profile, this wine is noted for its blackberry and plum flavours with hints of coffee. It pairs well with red meats – especially venison – and a variety of mature cheeses.
Napa Valley Chardonnay
Chardonnay is the most widely planted white grape in the Napa Valley and thrives in the rich soils and cooler climates of the southern tip of the region.
With a reputation for producing complex, full-bodied Chardonnays, with citrus and tropical fruit flavours, the style is easy-drinking, with subtle notes of caramel, brioche, and butter.
Top Chardonnay picks:
Raymond Vineyard Reserve Selection Chardonnay: £24.10 per 75cl bottom / ABV 14.5%: Raymond Vineyard owns three hundred acres of vineyards in three regions of Napa Valley, and this elegant Chardonnay is one of its flagship wines. Opening with aromas of pear and apple, it is complemented by soft notes of honeysuckle and oak. It’s a well-balanced wine with flavours of zingy lemon and ripe pear culminating in a long finish.
Bread & Butter Chardonnay: £13.99 per 75cl bottle / ABV% 13.5%: You’ve guessed it – this rich Chardonnay tastes of bread and butter. This bold and creamy white wine is silky smooth and highly enjoyable. With fresh notes of citrus fruits and mellow vanilla, it is an incredibly versatile wine that goes well with chicken, seafood, and pasta dishes.
Napa Valley Merlot
For decades Merlot grapes have been used as a blending wine for many Cabernet Sauvignon wines in Napa Valley.
In the Eighties, however, Merlot stepped out of the shadows to gain recognition and has remained extremely popular ever since. Napa Valley Merlots are intensely coloured with velvety tannins and hints of black fruits, dark chocolate, and bitter espresso.
Rutherford Hill Merlot: £29.95 per 75cl bottle / ABV 14.5%: This Merlot is well-rounded and soft with flavours of cherry pie, mocha, and oak, along with spice and honey.
Frog’s Leap Merlot: £39.99 per 75cl bottle / ABV 13.3%: There is something incredibly special about the red fruit flavours that add depth to this particular Merlot. Perfectly balanced flavours of cherries and plums make this a highly drinkable wine by itself or served with white meats and seafood. The wine has excellent environmental credentials too, as all the vineyards owned by Frog’s Leap are dry-farmed to conserve water and curb soil erosion.
Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Grown right across the Napa Valley region, Sauvignon Blanc from the northern area typically shows melon and crisp tropical fruit notes, while those from the southern vineyards tend to exhibit natural, raw, and earthy flavours.
Most Sauvignon Blanc wines from the Napa Valley are light- or medium-bodied wines with vibrant acidity.
Napa Cellars Sauvignon Blanc: £18.99 per 75cl bottle / ABV 14%: Many wine critics have rated this Napa Valley white wine very highly, and deservedly so. With heady aromas of tropical pineapple and white nectarine, this crisp wine delivers the fresh flavours of green apple, guava, and honey.
Twomey Napa Sauvignon Blanc: £30.50 per 75cl / ABV 14%: This fresh and tangy wine is aged in a variety of containers from oak to concrete barrels. It is wonderfully aromatic with citrus, pear and green apple, and a finish that has roots in tropical fruit notes with a silky smooth texture.
Other Napa Valley wines to watch out for
There are a host of other grape varieties that can be found growing in Napa Valley – and our recommendations simply reflect some of our favourites.
Why not explore more varieties, including Zinfandel, Syrah, Malbec, Chenin Blanc, or Pinot Gris to further expand your knowledge of Napa Valley wines?