California is Ripe with Varietals
With such diversity in climate, soil, and terrain, there is an ideal place in California to grow nearly every kind of grape. More than 100 varietals are planted in our state with winemakers creating unique expressions of these grapes. There is, quite literally, something for every palate.
Barbera – a prolific Italian variety that produces medium-bodied, fruity wines with crisp berry flavors.
Try Barbera with smoked salmon, pizza with prosciutto or salami, and bruschetta with tomatoes and garlic.
Cabernet Franc – one of the five red Bordeaux varietals, the herbaceous, red fruit, and slightly earthy style of this wine makes it an easy blend with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Try Cabernet Franc with a classic beef stew, aged Gouda, and rosemary-rubbed pork tenderloin
Cabernet Sauvignon – considered the noblest of Bordeaux grapes (and also the bestselling California varietal), Cabernet Sauvignon produces rich, complex wines reminiscent of dark fruit, cedar, and sometimes chocolate.
Try Cabernet Sauvignon with a juicy steak or grilled mushrooms.
Grenache – Rich and warm, this Rhone varietal is the star of the famed Chateauneuf-de-Pape wines of the Southern France. It’s the second most planted grape in the world and produces medium-bodied wines a wide range of fruit flavors, red raspberry to dark blackberry.
Try Grenache with any grilled shellfish as well as salami, sliced ham and other charcuterie.
Malbec – this deep red grape provides color and tannin to the wine it produces and offers flavors of plum, blackberry and pepper. One of the five red Bordeaux varietals, it’s often found in California’s Meritage blends, but is stellar on its own.
Try Malbec with classic rack of lamb and roasted root vegetables.
Merlot – this grape is luscious, with a velvet quality and fruity aromas. When blended with its other Bordeaux varietals, it can lend a softer quality to wines that would otherwise be hard and austere. Popular for its approachability, Merlot in the right California conditions can be as big and bold as a Cabernet Sauvignon.
Try Merlot with sautéed duck breasts or roasted pork tenderloin.
Mourvedre – one of the Rhone varietals, this warm climate grape has backbone, intense fruit and earthiness that make it a versatile food pairing wine.
Try Mourvèdre with roast duck or chicken, a tangy blue cheese, or pate.
Petite Sirah – Full-bodied and dry, this varietal has bold, ripe, dark-fruit flavors that make it a traditional blending grape that can also stand beautifully on its own. Originally from France, created by a cross between Syrah and the ancient grape Peloursin, Petite Sirah seems to thrive best in California.
Try Petite Sirah with sweet barbequed chicken, a cold roast beef sandwich with mustard, or mild blue cheeses.
Petit Verdot – The fifth blending grape of the red Bordeaux varietals, Petit Verdot is full-bodied, dry, and inky in the glass. Blueberry and violet flavors are characteristic of this varietal.
Try Petite Verdot with balsamic glazed pork loin and grilled flank steak.
Pinot Noir – this varietal is considered one of the world’s most elegant best known for producing fantastic Champagne and sparkling wine and reds from Burgundy. It’s a finicky grape that grows best in a cooler climate, especially California’s coastal regions. Medium-bodied and subtle, strawberry and cherry with hints of earth and leather are typical in this silky, delicate wine.
Try Pinot Noir with wood-smoked bacon, veal, grilled salmon , and wild mushrooms.
Sangiovese – and Italian varietal best known for producing Chianti’s and Brunello’s. In California, Sangiovese can be fruit forward with cherry and raspberry and a subtle spice and herbal notes.
Try Sangiovese with pork salami and sausages and pastas with tomato sauce.
Syrah – Another big Rhone varietal, this grape (known as Shiraz in Australia), produces bold, dark wines with concentrated fruit. Hints of black pepper are characteristic of this smooth but rich wine.
Try Syrah with robust, hearty foods—like ribs and roasted meat and game.
Tempranillo – A Spanish varietal most commonly found in Rioja, has had great success in California climate. Red fruit and earth make this medium-bodied wine quite versatile and delightfully complex.
Try Tempranillo with dill-poached salmon, pork tenderloin with cilantro pesto, or steamed mussels.
Zinfandel – a classic American grape that produces bold, fruit forward wine. Depending on the region and the winemaker, Zins can range from jammy, concentrated dark fruit, to a more balanced red fruit with peppery spice. Zinfandel is related to the Primitivo grape of Southern Italy.
Try Zinfandel with barbecue and burgers.
Red Blends – some of California’s most popular wines are combinations of several grapes, blended to give balance and complexity to the wine. Some blends are traditional, like a Meritage that mirrors the Bordeaux wines of France or Rhone blends that feature the winning combination of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. But other winemakers take a more maverick approach creating blends from Zinfandel, Cabernet and Syrah, creating something new that is distinctly California.
Try a California red blend with pulled pork tacos, barbecued chicken wings, or slow-cooked short ribs.
Chardonnay – the most planted grape in California and the world’s most important white varietal is responsible for producing the most revered white Burgundies, top notch Champagne and sparkling wines, as well as classic California richness. This grape can range, when unoaked, from tart and minerally, to rich and buttery when aged in oak.
Try Chardonnay with white fish, shellfish and chicken, as well as pastas with creamy, buttery sauces.
Chenin Blanc – this French varietal has thin skin, a good acidity level, and a high natural sugar content making it versatile enough to produce dry wines with a crisp backbone, off-dry and dessert wines rich with melon, peach and citrus, as well as refreshing sparklers.
Try Chenin Blanc with seared scallops, coconut curries, and artichokes.
Gewurztraminer – literally translates to “spice grape”, this Alsatian varietal produces gorgeous, aromatic wines that hint of spice and floral notes with a lush mouthfeel.
Try Gewürtztraminer with spicy stir-fries, smoked seafood, and salads.
Grenache Blanc –Rich, full-bodied, and crisp, Grenache Blanc is known for flavors and aromas of citrus, peach and apple. It’s a popular grape along the central coast.
Try Grenache Blanc with crab, squid, or clams with garlic butter as well as grilled snapper with lemon zest.
Marsanne – a delicious white Rhone varietal that is full-bodied and intensely aromatic. The honeysuckle aroma leads to a characteristic rich, tropical fruit flavor.
Try Marsanne with creamy vegetable soups, roasted squash, and hearty salads.
Pinot Blanc – refreshing with crisp acidity, Pinot Blanc often has flavors of green apple, citrus, and minerals. Its acidity and balance make it a lovely wine to pair with food.
Try Pinot Blanc with pan-fried fresh trout, seared tuna, and sushi.
Pinot Gris – also known as Pinot Grigio, can produce wines ranging from light and citrusy to rich and succulent with stone fruit and spice.
Try Pinot Gris with pasta with a fresh tomato sauce, as well as citrusy chicken and seafood dishes.
Riesling – this classic German varietal is known for its zesty, citrusy notes, with green apple and great minerally complexity. It can produce a range of styles from bracingly dry to rich and sweet. When grown in certain soils, and after aging, Rieslings can develop a gasoline aroma, which is surprisingly complex and appealing.
Try Riesling with Thai or Indian food, fried chicken, and summer salads.
Rousanne – the most delicate white of the Rhone varietals, this grape produces crisp whites with fresh -herbal notes and white-fruit flavors.
Try Rousanne with Indian and North African flavors along with delicate white fish.
Sauvignon Blanc – crisp and refreshing, with flavors that range from grass to grapefruit to green apple and melon.
Try Sauvignon Blanc with salads, grilled fish, or asparagus.
Semillon – a versatile grape that is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc, can produce dry wines that are citrusy and refreshing and dessert wines that are rich and sweet.
Try dry Semillon with fresh halibut or shellfish. Pair sweet Semillon with peach cobbler or pears sautéed in butter.
Viognier – the richest of the white Rhone varietals, is known for its floral nose, lush, full-body, and complex favors. Tropical fruits, and stone fruits like apricot and peach combined with orange blossom and honeysuckle give Viognier its classic characteristics.
Try Viognier with smoked oysters or mussels, or herb-roasted free-range chicken, goose or duck
White Blends – California’s white blends can range from classic Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon to a wild assortment of Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. These blends are designed to please the palate and pair with many types of cuisine.
Try a California white blend with fresh seafood, cold roast chicken, creamy polenta, or a range of cheeses—from ricotta to triple crème, from goat cheese to dry Jack.
California Rose, Sparkling & Dessert wines
Rose – The crisp, red fruit flavors of rose are especially refreshing on hot summer days. Styles can range from bracingly dry to creamy with a hint of sweetness. Roses, with their refreshing crispness and complexity are often a lovely match for food.
Try California rosé with everything from spicy sauces to crisp, light salads, even scrambled eggs.
Sparkling– Most sparkling wines are made in the classic méthode champenoise style from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes and are perfect for both special occasion and weeknight dinner alike.
Try California sparkling wine with everything from popcorn to triple crème cheeses.
Dessert Wine – California produces an array of dessert wines ranging from port styles to late harvest wines made from varietals like Riesling, Semillon and Zinfandel. Typically heavier in body with concentrated sweetness, these wines are a perfect way to end a meal.
Try red dessert wines with nuts and chocolaty desserts. White dessert wines match nicely with fruity or creamy desserts.