California’s red wines

California has a wine history that stretches back to the 17th century when missionaries brought European wines imported by the conquistadores from Latin America.

If California were a country, it would be the 4th largest wine producer in the world. How did California become a world-known winemaking heaven? There are a lot of reasons but two of the most important ones are geography and climate.

Most of California’s vineyards are located between 40 degrees north and 33 degrees south latitude. These are located within five “super” AVAs: the North Coast, San Francisco Bay, Sierra Foothills, Central Coast, and South Coast AVA.

Diversity of climates and terroirs

The coastal parts of California are blessed with a very warm to the hot Mediterranean climate. However, California is also blessed with a very cold current that flows south along its coast. This current not only moderates temperatures along. But thanks to a series of gaps in the mountains the cool air from the current is pulled inland bringing temperatures down and otherwise affecting the local climate to allow for a very wide variety of grapes to grow throughout California. So California really is remarkable for the diversity of the climates and terroirs.

The main reason that California can make great red wines at all is the Pacific Ocean. There are many regions within California that boast a vast array of grape varieties. But if there is one grape that California can call its own. It’s Zinfandel, which may have originated in Croatia and probably be the same as Italy’s Primitivo.

The best red Zinfandel versions range from the raspberry jam and black pepper styles to wild blackberry.

Grape varietals

California’s wine industry takes advantage of hundreds of available varietals. The top seven of which are Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and Zinfandel.

The North Coast is home to both Napa Valley and Sonoma County with Napa famous for its Cabernet and Merlot both a single varietal and in blends but thanks to the cooling fog and breezes coming up from the San Pablo Bay, Napa can also grow great Chardonnay and Pinot, particularly in its Carneros sub-AVA. Sonoma is well known for its Pinos and Chardonnays. After all, it’s also a home for well-respected Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Petit Syrah.

The Sierra Foothills that benefit from both cool air via the San Francisco Bay and from a relatively high elevation. This region is the home of Zinfandel but it also grows fine Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. However, Sierra Foothills has a lot of interesting plantings of Italian varietals like Barbera.

The Central Coast is home to Chardonnay plantings along with well-regarded Pinos and more recently Rhone varietals like Grenache and this is only the beginning of what there is to explore in California. California’s red wines are sensational.