When it comes to defining wine in the US most people probably sort right away to Napa Valley. It was the wines of Napa that really put the US on the world wine map, and Napa seems to serve as the shorthand for our wine in general, California wine more specifically, and all of the images and texture that conjure up “wine country.” And that’s all good for sure. But there’s a lot more to Napa than those generalities capture. In fact there are many Napa Valleys. No, not geographically, but within the confines of this amazingly special county there are clusters of growing regions that truly give it more meaning and definition when it comes to the wine.
These are called AVAs – American Viticultural Areas, and within the Napa Valley, which is an appellation all on its own, there are sixteen sub-regions. Each exists because there are some shared characteristics of earth and sky, a confluence of soil and climate that lend distinctiveness to the grapes and wines. When it comes to getting deeper into the bottle and appreciating the magic of wine, the more you know about where and how its grown, and how its made, the more each Sip becomes more than just a taste. So when you see an AVA on the label it’s your first clue about what’s in the bottle.
Here are the 16 Napa Valley AVAs along with a map from the Napa Valley Vintners. And if you visit their site here there’s even more detail. But I’d like hit a few of the highlights from my own, nontechnical perspective.
- Atlas Peak
- Chiles Valley
- Diamond Mountain
- Howell Mountain
- Los Carneros
- Mount Veeder
- Oak Knoll
- Spring Mountain
- St. Helena
- Stags Leap
- Wild Horse Valley
I don’t pick favorites (insert the smiley face emoji here!) – but I love
- The Cabernets from Oakville, Rutherford and Stags Leap. To me these valley floor growing areas are what Napa Cab is all about – ripe and lush, structured and textured with layers of taste and tannin to drink now or park for a while.
- That Los Carneros is unique and is a shared AVA with Sonoma – and its an area that greets us with the cooler and windy influences of San Pablo Bay, which means Pinot Noir with bright berry fruitiness and tingly acidity and Chardonnays that seem to mimic the mineralty of Chablis
- The grapes from the mountain ridges where they grow above the fog line, ripening in the sunshine to robust flavors. From Spring Mountain to Mt. Veeder, Howell Mountain to Diamond Mountain the Cabs are powerful and the Merlot are lip-smackers.
- That the northern part of the valley up by Calistoga and St. Helena is the warmest. I like it for the big tastes of Zin and Syrah and for Cabs that are densely fruity. We paid a visit to Calistoga in an earlier post you can check out. This is also where I get my favorite Cabernet Franc direct from the winery.
Napa Valley is many wines and many Sips and no single post can possibly capture them all. But as you dive in a little deeper and choose some wines from the different AVAs you’ll find the diversity and nuance, as well as the variety and vitality, that make the many Napas the quintessential wine country.
Here are some Sips for you to explore – as well as some tips on paying a visit to Napa Valley.
Every Day Sip
2015 Frog’s Leap Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc $12
Cameron Hughes Lot Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford $20
Martin Ray Chardonnay Los Carneros $20
BV Rutherford Cabernet $28
Steltzner Cabernet Stags Leap District $35
Cuvaison Pinot Noir Carneros $35
Mondavi Oakville Cabernet $40
Ballentine 2014 Cabernet Franc Pocai Vineyard Calistoga $48
Terra Valentine Cabernet Spring Mountain $48
Von Strasser Cabernet Diamond Mountain, 2012 $50
Groth Cabernet Oakville $55
Chimney Rock Cabernet Stags Leap $70
2012 Staglin Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford $180