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Napa Valley Wine Tasting Information

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Napa Valley and Its Subregions, The Quick Guide

If you’re into wine, even if you only enjoy a glass now and then, you’ve undoubtedly heard about Napa Valley. This is the pinnacle of fine wine in California, and it’s up there with the best in the world.

Still, Napa is not one wine region but many. Understanding its subregions is an excellent opportunity to know more about your wine preferences. After all, not all wine is created equal, and you surely enjoy one wine style over others. Here’s all you need to know about Napa Valley and its subregions, the quick guide. 

“Welcome to This Famous Wine Growing Region: Napa Valley,”

Says the distinguished Napa Valley welcome sign. Napa Valley starts a few miles north of San Pablo Bay, which blessed the entire region with a cool breeze. These are 35 miles of prime estate for growing world-class grapes, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay (but there are others, many others.)

It would take you forty minutes to drive from the town of Napa to the northernmost vineyards in the valley. During this delicious road trip, you’d drive by almost all the valley’s subregions, those on the valley floor and those in the mountains. This is what you need to know about them. 

Napa’s Valley Floor AVAs

There are several American Viticultural Areas or AVAs in Napa. From south to north, you’ll find Carneros, Oak Knoll, Yountville (and adjacent Stags Leap District), Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena and Calistoga.

Carneros is the coldest AVA in Napa, thanks to its proximity to San Pablo Bay. The weather is so cold here that Pinot Noir is more successful than Cabernet, and the Chardonnay is crisp and vibrant. Sparkling wine in the area is also to-notch.

Oak Knoll also benefits from the bay’s cooling fog, so Pinot and Chardonnay are more popular than Cabernet. Expect medium-bodied wines with refreshing acidity. 

Yountville is home to five-star restaurants but also to endless vineyards planted with Cabernet. Grape growers attribute the grape’s quality to an alluvial fan in the Mayacamas foothills. 

Stags Leap District is an AVA parallel to Napa’s main valley, along the Silverado Trail. Just a few wineries call the region home, but they’re some of the best-known estates in Napa. 

Oakville is further away from San Pablo Bay, and you can tell. This is a warmer AVA, and with higher temperatures, you get bolder and more alcoholic wines. Cabernet is king here, and the wines are noticeably bulkier than what you find down south. 

Rutherford is notorious for its warm weather and the acclaimed “Rutherford Dust,” a unique soil type said to give structure to red wines. Cabernet from Rutherford can be expensive, but it’s also amongst the most age-worthy. Here, the grapes ripen to perfection in every vintage. 

St. Helena might not enjoy the popularity of neighboring AVAs, but the wine here is good. Cabernet is the most planted variety in the area, but the weather is warm enough to produce stunning wines with Zinfandel, perhaps St. Helena’s best-kept secret. 

Last but not least, Calistoga is the northernmost AVA in Napa. You might not feel San Pablo Bay’s cooling effects here, but you get higher elevations instead. The unique geographic and climatic conditions in Calistoga make it versatile — an authentic playground for grape growers and winemakers alike. People often describe Calistoga wines as balanced and complex, even if not particularly robust. 

The Mountain AVAs

Napa Valley is more than the verdant vineyards growing on both sides of Highway 29. The valley is surrounded by mountains, and it’s in these steep, high-altitude plots where some of the most acclaimed wine comes from. Winemakers in Diamond Mountain, Spring Mountain, Mount Veeder and Atlas Peak grow “mountain” fruit that produces concentrated and balanced wines. 

There are no doubt wines made with high-altitude grapes are age-worthy and contemplative, but the finest wines produced on the valley floor can give them a run for their money. 

Armchair Sommelier Wine Tasting Guide

Spice up your next party with our wine tasting guide! Learn what to look, smell, and taste for while appreciating your favorite bottle. We’ve also included a printable tasting notes template and a tasting wheel.