Originally of French origin, this versatile grape produces exceptional wines around the globe. Cabernet Sauvignon is usually medium- to full-bodied, with a fine structure that supports black and red fruit flavors with typical notes of olive, chili and herbs that add complexity.
California has long struggled with Pinot Noir. Finding the right vineyards for this most fickle of grapes -- one that enjoys a cool growing season yet needs warmth close to harvest to fully ripen -- has proven a challenge in such a sunny state. Cooler areas eventually became identified; the Santa Rita Hills, Russian River Valley and Mendocino's Anderson Valley are all prime spots for Pinot Noir in California. Unlike the lighter colored and sometimes delicate Pinots of Burgundy, California produces many rich, deep Pinots full of slightly chewy dark berry and cherry fruits with hints of cola, Asian spices and forest floor frequently adding complexity.
Syrah is one of the few grapes to really be a global success. It combines a meaty core of ripe berry fruit with tones that range from herbal to peppery, in a package that tends to be medium-bodied with good acidity and softer tannins. With age, the wines can gain lovely leathery and black olive notes that make them a great match for savory and gamy dishes.
Zinfandel is considered America's own great indigenous grape, even though its origins lie on the Adriatic coast. Planted throughout California and the Pacific Northwest, Zinfandel is at its best in warm regions with cooler temperatures during harvest. The wines can range from off-dry Rosés, White Zinfandels, and light bistro-styled wines, to big, rich, powerful wines and even luscious wines for dessert bottling. The flavors range from plummy to raspberry, although deep blackberry fruit and brambly spice tones are most common.