Nearly three-quarters the size of France, the State of California produces about 90 percent of all the wine made in the U.S. The Californian wine production is a third larger than that of Australia, and, if California were an independent nation, it would’ve been the world’s 4th largest wine producer. In 2015, there are more than 1,200 wineries spread throughout California, from the famous wineries of Sonoma and Napa in Northern California, to the relatively new wine country of Santa Ynez Valley and the Malibu Canyon areas in Southern California. Blackhawk Limousine is proud to be the only limousine service in Southern California with our own wine concierge. Blackhawk Limo has offered customized wine tours throughout Southern California for more than fifteen years, and serves Ventura, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles Counties. In this article, Blackhawk Limo and our wine tour concierge will outline the varietals of California wine grapes. First of all, of the more than a hundred grape varieties grown in California, many of them are originally of European descent, including French, Spanish, Italian, German and Portuguese wine varietals. The diversity of the Californian wine industry and the multitude of different growing conditions are an illustration of the wide number of grape varietals grown in California. For instance, there are more than 30 different types of red wine grapes, and about 25 types of white wine grapes. Certain grape varieties will solely grow in certain climate- and weather conditions, while others will grow about anywhere in the state. For instance, Chardonnay is everyone’s grape and happily grows throughout all of the California wine country. On the other hand, grapes such as Pinot noir is fussy and will exclusively grow in a narrow range of cooler climates.
The leading grape varieties grown in California are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot noir, Sauvignon blanc, Syrah, and Zinfandel. Other important red wine grapes includes Barbera, Cabernet franc, Carignan, Grenache, Malbec, Mouvedre, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Sangiovese. Other important white wine grapes include Chenin blanc, French Colombard, Gewürztraminer, Marsanne, Muscat Canelli, Pinot blanc, Pinot gris, Riesling, Roussane, Sémillon, Trousseau gris, and Viognier. In this article, Blackhawk Limousine and its wine concierge, Zeke Martinez, will outline some of these grapes and their characteristics. Why are the grape varietals so important? Well, every single grape has its own special character and flavor. These traits shape the important characteristics found in a particular wine. If you know a few grapes you do like, or a few you do not prefer that much, it’s easier to pick the perfect wine and also makes it less scary to try out the wines you’ve never tasted previously.
We will start out by describing the characteristics of the most common red wine grapes:
Cabernet sauvignon is one of the most important grapes in the state, and by far the most important red wine grape. As a matter of fact, more than a quarter of all red wines produced in California are made from cabernet sauvignon. This grape is capable of both creating a powerful and tannic wine in the hotter climates of Southern California, as well as austere wines in the cooler mountain climates. Wines made out of Cabernet sauvignon grapes are all capable of having the telltale aromas of cassis – blackcurrant, as well as green bell pepper, blackberry, and cedar wood.
Merlot is still the second-most widespread red wine grape in the state, though its popularity peaked in the 1990’s and its popularity is now waning. In French wines, Merlot is usually mixed with Cabernet sauvignon, while in California, it’s more commonly made into an easier, lighter wine that is less tannic and more plump than most of the Cabernet sauvignons. Wines of the Merlot grape are perfect for both lunch as well as dinner; it’s soft textures and rich falvours works very well with a diversity of food. For the best pairing tips, try out some Marlot based wine to a meal of lamb, veal, meat, or a stewed dish. Merlot goes also hand in hand with chicken, pork, or mushrooms.
Zinfandel is the third mostly distributed red wine grape in the State of California. It’s sometimes falsely considered or claimed to be a California native, even though genetic studies have shown it originally came from Southern Europe. This wine grape comes in a wide range of styles, everything from a tannie, instense and jammy wine – to a way more subtle, nicely structured wine. Zinfandel was among the first wine grapes to reach the U.S., already by 1830, vines were sold as Zinfandel in what became the State of California a few decades later.
Pinot noir is said to have the most complex flavours and is able to communicate the great properties of the terroir like no other wine grape. The classic aromas include for instance raspberry, strawberry, violet, cherry, and numerous other earthly overtones. It is also one of the most widely used grape for producing Champagne. Pinot noir has a tremendously long history and goes all the way back to the Roman Empire’s conquer of the Gaul-regions in France. It soon became the wine for Roman Catholic sacraments, and became hugely popular throughout Europe early on.
Syrah is historically from the Rhône Valley of France, but has become a rising star in California. In some areas in Europe and Australia, this grape is also known as Shiraz. It is usually made into French-style wines in the cooler areas of California, exhibiting chocolate flavours and telltale black pepper, and an almost purple colour. It makes a much denser and more powerful red wine when grown in areas with hotter climates, including parts of Southern California and the deserts of Australia. Commonly reported aromas, scents and flavours are plums, flowers, spice, earth, licorice, pepper, and truffles.
Petite sirah is historically one of the most popular wine grapes in California. It’s commonly used as a blending grape, oftentimes in Zinfandels, but is also more recently increasingly bottled on its own. It’s genetically related to Syrah, even though the Californian Syrah has been found to be a varietal called Durif, which is a cross between Petite Sirah and Peloursin. When mixed, the this grape adds a tannic backbone, structure and colour. It makes a hard wide that fits perfectly with many big dishes – meats, grilled meats, braised, ribs, and stews is a great choice for a food-match.
And now some of the white wine grape varietals found in California:
Chardonnay is the absolute dominating white wine grape in California; Chardonnay accounts for more than fifty percent of the total acreage of white varietals in the state. It grows about anywhere can be made into a multitude of white wines. Chardonnay is also one of the most popular grapes used to make Champagne. Chardonnay goes well with a huge variety of seafood, such as lobsters, crabs and other shell fish, sushi and all raw fish, grilled fish such as cod or salmon, and more. It also pairs well with veal, pork, and a wide variety of cheese.
Chenin blanc is the grape that Chardonnay eclipsed, and the acreage planted to this grape has been declining rapidly since the 1980’s. It makes an equally easy-drinking wine as Chardonnay, but is full of fruit aromas. It is first and foremost a great blending grape.
Sauvignon blanc is one of the most important white grapes in France, where it’s commonly blended with Semillon, and sauvignon blanc has had a huge growth in California in the recent years. In colder climates, such as its home in Bordeaux and other European wine lands, as well as in the cooler climates of Northern California, it makes a refreshing, crisp aromatic white wine. Usually with unusual aromas such as herbs and grass as well. In Southern California and warmer climates, it makes for an instense style wine from which winemakers often coax richer, more tropical fruity flavours. These are sometimes referred to as fumè blanc.
Viognier is yet another traditionally French wine grape that really exploded into the California scene in the 1990’s. It does extremely well in the hot climate of Southern California, where it ripens enough to make full-bodied, elegant wines with distinctive exotic aromas, as well as an amazing texture. Watch out for sometimes excessive levels of alcohol, sometimes far beyond fifteen percent, which sometimes gives the wine an alcoholic or hot taste. It’s one of the few wines that go very well with a huge varities of food – from spicy food, because of its excessive sweetness - to roasted or grilled chicken, porn, veal, shellfish and other seafood.
Riesling is regarded as the number one wine in its home country of Germany, but has become increasingly popular in California in recent times. Some Rieslings are sweet and sometimes lack structure, but the best ones generally have unique tropical fruity flavors, great balance of acidity, lightness, and powerful aromas. It can be paired with food such as white fish, pork, and is great at handling stronger spices found in many Asian cuisines, such as Thai, Indian or Chinese cuisine.
Gewürztraminer is yet another Alsatian white wine grape that has found its home in the cooler parts of Northern California. It produces a wonderful aromatic and complex wine with a telltale floral aromas and a refreshing acidity that makes them great with food. Most Gewürztraminer is made in a dry style, but the grapes are usually harvested later than usual to make a rich and complex dessert wine. In California, it is mostly grown in Sonoma, Monterey and Sonoma.
Enough information? Are you ready to book a limo wine tour and taste some wines for yourself? If so, we would be happy to arrange your limousine wine tour. Contact us today to book