Each year, the Golden State produces millions of liters of good quality table wines and an increasingly large volume of high quality vintage wines. California wineries produce about 90 per cent of all American wine.
The wine region called Napa Valley is a symbol of California wine. Some of the Napa Valley wineries are located at small farms, others are in beautiful estates with palatial mansions, in Victorian houses or even in European-style castles. Wineries are also scattered around the state in smaller districts such as the Sierra Foothills, the Central Valley, the Sacramento area and the Los Angeles area.
California is blessed with a wonderful climate, soils and geographical location, which are extremely well suited for growing many varieties of wine grapes. Mostly the European sorts of wine are grown there: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. California Cabernet Sauvignon is the famous full-bodied red wine made from the traditional Bordeaux grape. California Chardonnay, made from the same grapes used in French White Burgundy and Champagne, is a wonderful dry white wine of excellent flavor and complexity. Some excellent Pinot Noir is available from Northern California and Oregon. Wonderful light, white wines are made from Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc grapes in California, Oregon and Washington. California produces good Sparkling wines, and many California wineries are beginning to produce some typical Rhone and Italian varieties such as Grenache, Gamay and Sangiovese.
The Zinfandel grape is a uniquely American wine grape. It is widely used not only for inexpensive table "White Zinfandel" and "Blush Zinfandel" (the most popular wine offered in American restaurants), but also for high-grade red wines. "Red Zinfandel" wines are medium to full-bodied red wines with wonderfully complex berry flavors.
A visit to the California Wine Country can be quite interesting, because many of the wineries offer free tours and free wine tastings. The scenery in the wine growing regions is picturesque, and there are a number of fine restaurants featuring California cuisine with wide selections of local wines.
It is very difficult to choose the best quality wines in the US except by knowing the reputation of the California wine producers. The best wines are usually available for purchase at specialty wine stores, but not in supermarkets or local small beverage stores. They are also available in finer restaurants but at double the store price. Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley produce many different varieties and different grades of wine.
One of the characteristic features of California wine is that the price is in no way an indicator of quality. Common table wines sell for $5 to $10 a liter and some of them can be extremely good. If you are not familiar with the names of the better wine producers in the US, ask a knowledgeable waiter or specialty wine store sales clerk for advice. Fine wines of excellent quality can be purchased for $10 to $20 a liter. The top quality wines sell for $20 or more per liter.