Wine Enthusiast

ARTICLE | July 26, 2017

An Introduction To Napa Valley

Napa Valley is defined by its two mountain ranges, the Mayacamas to the west and Vacas to the east. It offers a varied topography, from the valley floor along the namesake Napa River to sloping alluvial fans and steep mountain ridges that reach up to 2,600 feet. The region’s 16 appellations include a multitude of microclimates, from Carneros in the cooler south to warmer Calistoga at the northernmost point.

The 30-mile valley runs north-south with two parallel thoroughfares, busy Highway 29 and the less-traveled Silverado Trail. Byways are lined by wineries styled after everything from simple barns to ancient pyramids and grand chateaux, and all offer luxury within a comfortable California vibe.

The town of Napa has taken on more youthful energy in recent years, with live music at the Uptown Theater and Blue Note Napa. Hollywood stars like Matthew McConaughey and Viggo Mortensen hit the red carpet in November for the Napa Valley Film Festival, which integrates cinema with the region’s love of food and wine.

Yountville and St. Helena are internationally famous food meccas, celebrated for Michelin three-star standouts The French Laundry and The Restaurant at Meadowood. Farther north, Calistoga is a laid-back spa town that just happens to boast several posh resorts. It’s also a gateway to a wealth of wilderness, including Mount St. Helena and Robert Louis Stevenson State Park.

When not in the cellar, top winemakers and vintners savor the region’s outdoors and cultural attractions. A 47-mile series of walking and biking paths still under construction, the Napa Valley Vine Trail will eventually run from Napa to Calistoga. For the most unforgettable experience, hot-air balloon rides lift you above the vineyards for a birds-eye view of America’s most famous appellation.

The Top Grapes of Napa Valley

Cabernet Sauvignon
California’s finest Cabs and Bordeaux-style red blends come from here. The wines are lush, yet balanced and dry, with ripe, supple tannins. The best examples can age for decades.

Merlot
Merlot can be picky about where it grows, but when it’s situated correctly (often at higher elevation), it sings. Smooth and delicious, it shows red cherry, and frequently, chocolate.

Syrah
Syrah gains welcome complexity in cool climates. From the right pockets, wines are soft and nuanced in blackberry, often showing gamy, violet and pepper notes.

Zinfandel
In terms of structure, Zins here can resemble Cabernet. Balanced and elegant, they retain a briary, brambly personality.

Petite Sirah
Napa brings balanced elegance to a variety that can be rustic. Always full bodied, heady and tannic, these Petites exude fruity richness.

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