Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
fruitiness and lively balancing acidity,
as well as a potential to age for many
years. Suggested food pairings
include crab, pork, sweet-and-sour
foods, and anything with a strong
citrus flavor. Asian-influenced foods
also pair well with riesling.
SAUVIGNON BLANC Also labeled as
fumé blanc, sauvignon blanc grapes
are used to make crisp, dry whites
of medium to light body that vary in
flavor from slightly grassy to tart or
fruity. The grape grows very well in
the Wine Country and has become
increasingly popular due to its dis-
tinctive character and pleasant acid-
ity; indeed, it has recently become a
contender to the almighty chardon-
nay. Because of their acidity, sauvi-
gnon blancs pair well with shellfish,
seafood, and salads.
ZINFANDEL Zinfandel is often
called the “mystery” grape because
its origins are uncertain. “Zinfandel”
first appeared on California labels in
the late 1800s; hence, it has come
to be known as California's grape. In
fact, most of the world's zinfandel
acreage is planted in Northern Cali-
fornia, and some of the best zinfan-
del grapes grow in cool coastal
locations and on century-old vines
up in California's Gold Country. Zin-
fandel is by far the Wine Country's
most versatile grape, popular as
blush wine (the ever-quaffable white
zinfandel: a light, fruity wine, usually
served chilled); as dark, spicy, and
fruity red wines; and even as a port.
Premium zins, such as those crafted
by Ravenswood winery in Sonoma
(the Wine Country's Zeus of zins),
are rich and peppery, with a lush
texture and nuances of raspberries,
licorice, and spice. Food-wise it's a
free-for-all, although premium zins
go well with beef, lamb, venison,
hearty pastas, pizza, and stews.
Francis are best known for produc-
ing masterful merlots. The merlot
grape is a relative of cabernet sauvi-
gnon, but it's fruitier and softer,
with a pleasant black-cherry bou-
quet. Merlots tend to be simpler
and less tannic than most caber-
nets, and they are drinkable at an
earlier age, though these wines,
too, gain complexity with age. Serve
this medium- to full-bodied red with
any dish you'd normally pair with a
cabernet. (It's great with pizza.)
PINOT NOIR It has taken California
vintners decades to make relatively
few great wines from pinot noir
grapes, which are difficult to grow
and vinify. Even in their native Bur-
gundy, the wines are excellent only
a few years out of every decade,
and they are a challenge for wine-
makers to master. Recent attempts
to grow the finicky grape in the
cooler climes of the Carneros Dis-
trict have met with promising
results. During banner harvest
years, California's pinot grapes pro-
duce complex, light- to medium-
bodied red wines with such low
tannins and such silky textures that
they're comparable to the finest
reds in the world. Pinots are fuller
and softer than cabernets and can
be drinkable at 2 to 5 years of age,
though the best improve with addi-
tional aging. Pinot noir is versatile at
the dinner table, but it goes best
with lamb, duck, turkey, game birds,
semisoft cheeses, and even fish.
RIESLING Also called Johannisberg
Riesling or white riesling, this is the
grape from which most of the great
wines of Germany are made. It was
introduced to California in the
mid-19th century by immigrant vint-
ners and is now used mainly to pro-
duce floral and fruity white wines of
light to medium body, ranging from
dry to very sweet. (It's often used
to make late-harvest dessert wine.)
Well-made rieslings, of which Califor-
nia has produced few, have a vivid
Lesser-Known Grape Varietals
grape variety that's often blended
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