Guide to the Best Wines of California

The United States has risen to the top of the wine world in terms of production very rapidly over the past 30 years, and today the country is the third largest wine producer in the entire world.

More American wine is produced in the state of California than anywhere else in the country, and it is by far the most important wine state in the US.

Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the red wine landscape in California, while oaked Chardonnay drives the white wine market.

There are many different grape varieties grown in California today, and the wines of California have gained acclaim and popularity all around the world.

The Best Wines of California

cabernet sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon

The saying “Cabernet is King” is a common phrase in the major wine-producing regions of California, as it is a well-known fact that Cabernet Sauvignon drives the local wine economy in the state of California.

Many of California’s top wine-producing regions feature fairly warm climates, which leads to flavorful ripe grapes that are full of sugar. These bold and strong grapes produce equally bold red wines that are well known for their full flavor and aggressive “grippy” tannins.

Cabernet Sauvignon from the United States in the early years was generally very sweet and overly bold while lacking balance and complexity.

The rest of the world started taking wine from California more seriously in the 1970s after a famous blind tasting held in Paris, France.

Caymus Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most popular wines in the entire world, and almost certainly one of the most famous bottles of wine from the United States. This is a quintessential example of a big and bold “Cult California Cabernet.”

Screaming Eagle is the second most popular bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from the state of California and is another example of a Napa Valley wine that has gained a “cult-like” following of extremely dedicated supporters who purchase multiple cases of every single vintage.

Chardonnay

chardonnay

Chardonnay is the most important and widely planted white wine grape in the state of California, and California Chardonnay is well known for its distinctive “creamy” or “buttery” characteristics and smooth body.

The vast majority of the most popular and best-selling bottles of California Chardonnay are aged in new American oak, which imparts very distinct characteristics into the wine. This is due to a process called malolactic fermentation, where the acids in the wine are softened over time.

The result is a very rich and creamy white wine that is sometimes compared to cream, butter, and vanilla. This is one of the most food-friendly white wines in the world and makes for a perfect food pairing with buttery popcorn while enjoying a movie with friends.

Rombauer Vineyards produces one of the most popular and highly regarded bottles of Chardonnay from the state of California. While it possesses the trademark “California creaminess” of the region, it is well balanced and there are many layers of flavor.

Marcassin Estate Chardonnay is one of the most popular high-end bottles of Chardonnay from California, and it is produced in the famous Sonoma Coast region. A single bottle usually sells for somewhere around $600, and certain vintages can cost thousands of dollars.

Pinot Noir

pinot noir

While Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are the two most important wine grapes of California, there is also a growing number of high-quality Pinot Noir being introduced to the market every single year.

Some of the best Pinot Noir from the state of California is produced in regions where there is climate moderating influences to help dial back the state’s warm temperatures. Pinot Noir shines in cooler climates where the grape is able to fully ripen while preserving acidity.

The Russian River Valley in Sonoma county is of particular importance when it comes to quality California Pinot Noir. Another emerging region that has been specializing in world-class Pinot Noir is the Los Carneros wine region.

Meiomi Pinot Noir is a very popular and widely distributed mass-produced red wine from California that fits into the budget of nearly all wine enthusiasts. It provides solid quality for a large-scale wine producer with a very reasonable price point.

DAOU is one of the largest and most popular wine producers in the state of California, and the 2020 Reserve Solomon Hills Pinot Noir is their premium selection of the delicate red wine grape. They also produce Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara at a much lower price point.

Zinfandel

zinfandel

Zinfandel is a hearty red wine grape that thrives in warm weather growing conditions. This tough red wine grape is a perfect candidate for the brutally hot growing season and harsh conditions associated with some of California’s hottest wine-growing regions.

The wines produced with the Zinfandel grape in California are generally full-bodied, sweet, and full of fruit flavors like berries. There are relatively low levels of tannin, making these “juicy” red wines easy to drink for all audiences.

Some of the strongest Zinfandels from California contain high levels of alcohol, as the high residual sugar content in the grapes provides extra fuel for the yeasts to convert into alcohol. California Zinfandel is bold and sweet, making it very food friendly and easy to drink.

One of the most popular affordable bottles of Zinfandel from the state of California is produced by Seghesio Family Vineyards in the world-famous Sonoma County. It has received multiple 90-point scores from Wine Enthusiast and represents a fantastic value at under $30 per bottle.

The famous producers at Caymus Vineyards also offer a high-quality bottle of single varietal Pinot Noir that is priced significantly lower compared to their extremely popular Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a favorite among many fans of high-quality new world Pinot Noir.

Red Blends

red blends

Blends containing many different varieties of red wine have become increasingly popular in the state of California over the past two decades. Some of the most popular styles of California red wine blends are affordable and sweet, making them accessible for all wine enthusiasts.

Blending a variety of different wine grapes together is a great way for producers to imparting balance and depth to wines that do not shine on their own. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some of the best wines in all of California are expensive Bordeaux-style blends.

Opus One is considered by many sommeliers, wine enthusiasts, and critics to be the best and most important wine to come out of the state of California. This Bordeaux-style blend has taken the world by storm and is highly regarded all over the world today.

Dominus Estate Christian Moueix is another extremely popular representation of the Bordeaux blend produced in Napa Valley. Along with Opus One, Dominus has helped to spread the reputation of high-quality red wine from California all around the world.

Sauvignon Blanc

sauvignon blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is the second most planted white wine grape in the state of California, and many wine enthusiasts associate California Sauvignon Blanc with a distinct earthy or “grassy” taste that keeps certain wine lovers coming back for more.

Chardonnay rules the landscape in California white wine production, and only a small amount of plantings are dedicated to the Sauvignon Blanc grape. This makes these wines fairly difficult to come by, especially when compared with the state’s larger wine grape offerings.

Accendo Cellars produces a stunning representation that showcases the best of what the state has to offer in this regard. It is also one of the higher-priced California Sauvignon Blancs at around $80 per bottle, though some still consider it to be a fantastic value.

Rombauer is a famous California producer of many different styles of wine, though they are best known for their famous oaked Chardonnays. Rombauer’s take on Sauvignon Blanc is both balanced and refreshing and is the preference of many California wine enthusiasts.

Sparkling Wines

sparkling wines

Sparkling wine from the state of California has increased significantly over the past 20 years both in terms of production scale and quality. The majority of sparkling wines are made using a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, though there are many other varietals used as well.

Some of the most sought-after bottles of sparkling wine from California offer extremely high quality using the same methods being used in Champagne, France. The price tag of California sparkling wines is also significantly lowered when compared to Champagne.

Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut is one of the most searched-for and coveted bottles of sparkling wine produced in the state of California today. It is produced using 100% Chardonnay to achieve a luscious body featuring small delicate bubbles.

The same producer also makes a sparkling Rosé that is one of the best in all of the United States. Schramsberg Brut Rosé offers fantastic value considering the price point and is sure to be a crowd pleaser among a variety of different groups.

Dessert Wines

dessert wines

Dessert wines are a great way to enjoy a stronger glass of wine either after a meal or in between courses as an aperitif. These wines are higher in alcohol and can be very sweet depending on the production style.

Hundred Acre ‘Fortification’ Port is a fortified dessert wine that is produced in the style of Port. It is one of the most sought-after and highly reviewed bottles of dessert wine in the entire United States, and a bottle generally sells for somewhere between $700 and $800.

Martinelli produces a sweet wine called Muscat Jackass Hill, which is a single varietal bottle of sweet wine made using the Muscat grape. There are a variety of different sweet fruit flavors on the palate, making this a fantastic option for pairing with ice cream and pies.

Wines of California – Conclusion

While bold Cabernet Sauvignon and creamy Chardonnay are the primary wines that drive the California wine economy, there are a number of different wine styles that are produced all across the state.

Feel free to leave a comment below and let other wine enthusiasts know which bottles of wine from California need to be added to all collections!

Also, check out our list of the various wine regions across the world to deepen your knowledge of wine!