The A to Z of grape varieties in the Napa Valley

We all know Napa is famous for Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Even Merlot. But at some point, even we want something else. Yes, these grapes are wonderful, and the wines produced from them can be quite spectacular. But there’s more to life than the same wines every day.

You don’t have to leave the Napa Valley to enjoy equally spectacular wines that are made from other grapes. Aglianico? Yes. Barbera? You bet. Grenache? Mmm, good. Sangiovese? Yummy. And so many more. Since we said earlier A to Z, we’ll include Zinfandel here, but you probably already knew that and have enjoyed many of them.

Let’s start our journey through Napa tasting what we don’t know.

At the Southern end of the Napa Valley, there is Carneros. And in Carneros, there is Mahoney Vineyards. And at Mahoney there is Albarino and Vermentino (white) and Sangiovese and Nebbiolo (red) wines. They also do Pinot Noir, but you’ve heard of that, right? Visit 1134 Dealy Lane in Carneros. It’s under the Carneros Wine Company banner. Phone is 707-253-9464.

In Napa, you can taste great Tempranillo at Jarvis Estate. It’s one of California’s best. Tempranillo is primarily grown in the Rioja region of Spain. And while you’re at Jarvis, try some Cabernet Franc (one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon) and Petit Verdot. To make reservations for tastings (and a truly terrific tour), call 800-255-5280. Jarvis is located at 2970 Monticello Road in Napa. A bit out of town, but worth the trip.

Moving right along. Let’s stop at Domaine Chandon. One of the first sparkling wine houses in Napa. And a very popular grape in some sparklers is Pinot Meunier. Chandon makes a still (non-sparkling) wine from 100%  Meunier. Similar to (but not exactly like) Pinot Noir. Ok, you can enjoy their great sparkling wines while you’re here. Head to 1 California Drive in Yountville. 707-944-8844.

Next stop: Freemark Abbey. Founded in 1886 by one of the first women winegrowers, this winery is famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon. But they make other extraordinary wines including the aromatic and delicious white originating in the Rhone Valley of France, called Viognier. And they are also known to do a stunning Petite Sirah. Freemark Abbey is located in St. Helena at 3022 St. Helena Hwy. North. 800-963-9698.

Grenache is spectacular at T-Vine in Calistoga. Zinfandels too. Definitely worth stopping in at 810 Foothill Blvd.  Grenache is gaining popularity in the US. It’s grown in France’s Rhone Valley, and in Spain, where it’s called Garnacha. In Italy it’s called Cannoneau. And unlike some wines that are made in white and rosé versions from the red grape, Grenache actually has a red version, a white version, and a pink one. 707-942-1543.

James Cole Winery, on the Silverado Trail (yes, we’re heading back down to Napa on the other road that goes there) does a great Malbec. You may know Malbec as the red wine of Argentina. You won’t need to go to the Southern Hemisphere to taste this great grape.  James Cole is located at 5014 Silverado Trail, in Napa. Call 707-251-9905 for reservations to taste.


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