More than 4.5 million people visit the region dubbed “The World’s Best Wine and Food Destination” each year. What makes the Napa Valley so special? Cabernet is king, of course! California Cabs are not only the best wines from Napa Valley, but also stand out as some of the best wines in the world. Learn everything you need to know about Napa Valley and the grape that reigns supreme, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Everything You Need to Know about Napa Valley Cabernet
Wine was produced in the Napa Valley long before it emerged on the international wine scene. (The first commercial vineyard was established in 1858). However, most attribute the beginning of Napa Valley’s acclaim to the 1970s and the event now known as “Judgment of Paris” (an allusion to the Greek myth). In May of 1976, a British wine merchant named Steven Spurrier organized a private wine competition in Paris. The event included two blind tastings: one of Chardonnay and another of Bordeaux varietals. Spurrier invited many members of the press, but only one reporter from TIME Magazine attended. The panel included 11 judges (eight French men, one French woman, one American woman, and Spurrier). They tasted 10 Cabernet Sauvignon/Bordeaux blends (six from California and four from France) and 10 Chardonnay/Burgundy wines (six from California and four from France). The judges ranked the wines on a scale from one to 20.
Much to the surprise of the attendants (and especially to Spurrier, who only sold French wines), California wines won both categories. The shocking result led to California wines gaining an international reputation and acclaim, which they hold to this day.
What Does Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Taste Like?
Napa Valley Cabernet is known for its ripe, dark fruits, balanced acidity and tannins, presence of oak, depth of flavor, and ability to age. Fruit flavors include black currant, plums, black cherry, raspberry, blueberry, blackberry, and notes of anise. The wine’s depth allows these initial aromas and flavors to develop into more complex notes, such as mineral notes like pencil lead, floral notes like violet, or herbal notes like sage. This further develops into a finish that expresses the influence of oak, such as cedar, espresso, and tobacco. Both the level of acid and the tannins in the wine are balanced.
Geography of the Napa Valley
Cabernet Sauvignon grapes thrive in sunny, warm climates. However, the climate can’t be too hot––otherwise, the grapes will ripen too quickly. The Napa Valley provides the perfect location for Cabernet to thrive (and slowly ripen). The region’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean means it receives a cooling morning coastal fog, which helps to regulate temperatures and grape maturation. The region’s soil also plays a vital role: it allows for good drainage and does not provide a lot of nutrients. This results in stressed vines, which create higher quality clusters. The region’s volcanic soil additionally adds a dusty, earthy flavor to the wines, which adds to their complexity.
The Napa Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA)
The Napa Valley AVA is surrounded by the Mayacamas Mountain Range and the Vaca Mountains. The region’s southern end tends to have more sediment from the San Pablo Bay, while the northern end has more volcanic lava and ash.
More than 400 wineries are located in the Napa Valley AVA, which has 43,000 acres of planted vines. The region, which was established in 1981, has 16 AVAs within its AVA:
- Los Carneros AVA
- Howell Mountain AVA
- Wild Horse Valley AVA
- Stags Leap District AVA
- Mount Veeder AVA
- Atlas Peak AVA
- Spring Mountain District AVA
- Oakville AVA
- Rutherford AVA
- St. Helena AVA
- Chiles Valley AVA
- Yountville AVA
- Diamond Mountain District AVA
- Coombsville AVA
- Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley AVA
- Calistoga AVA
Food Pairings with Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Yes, steak is still one of the best pairings for Napa Valley Cabernet. However, Cabernet Sauvignon has a surprisingly softer side and goes well with some cheeses (and even lavender).
Cheese/nuts: Aged cheddar, gorgonzola, walnuts
Meat/poultry: Venison, ribeye, beef stew
Seafood: Grilled ahi tuna
Fruits and Veggies: Black cherries, tomatoes, brussels sprouts, broccoli, chard
Herbs and Spices: Rosemary, juniper, lavender
Sauces: Mushroom sauces, reductions, tomato sauces
Desserts: Bittersweet chocolate