The Basics of Napa Valley Wines

Napa Valley is the epitome of exquisite, high-quality vineyards in the heart of one of the most beautiful areas of the country. Once you’ve set foot in the rolling hills, felt the warm California sunshine on your face, and taken in the lush foliage while sipping on wine that was grown and barreled right where you walk… you’ll never sip a wine again without appreciating where it comes from. 

There’s so much to learn about this wine paradise, though. Here is everything you need to know about the best wines to taste and take home from Napa Valley. 

Napa wines actually only produce about 4% of the total amount of wine made in the US. This should give you an idea of its reputation, then, when everyone who knows wine knows that this is the best place to get it. Although Napa often is referred to as one overarching area, there are actually many smaller areas with complex, unique viticulture characteristics. Calistoga, Rutherford, St. Helena, the Mayacamas mountains… each section grows a grape that makes a wine unlike any other. 

Cabernet Sauvignon

Napa’s cab-sav grapes are the most popular in the area. They often have notes of deeply colored fruits, mocha, tobacco, and spices. These cabernet sauvignons are mid-to-full bodied, creating a signature taste that you’ll remember. One of our favorites is the Louis M. Martini, Lot 1. 


Merlot is a classic red that is often bottled in partnership with a cabernet. Merlots have notes of fruit that stand out as well as plush textures, making them finish with finesse. Although they are juicy, merlots still give off savory notes, making them a popular choice for tasting rooms. We love Robert Mondavi’s merlot. 

Cabernet Franc

If a winery is focused on showing off blended wines, you can almost guarantee that they will be showcasing a cabernet franc. This choice has a light body, coming from a red, spicy grape. One that stands out among Napa’s offerings is La Jota Vineyards’ cabernet franc from Howell Mountain. 


Chardonnay is Napa’s favorite white, so it’s not uncommon to have a chardonnay at the beginning of a tasting fleet—closely followed by a standard cabernet. The chardonnay grape is highly versatile, meaning that its wines come in varied expressions. Its notes can range from crisp to voluptuous. Napa chardonnays have even beat out French vineyards, such as in 1976 when Château Montelena took the prize at the Judgement of Paris. If your winery has a Château, make sure you get a sip (or a glass, or a bottle). 

Sauvignon Blanc

You might think you know sauvignon blanc, but if it’s from France or New Zealand it’s not going to be anything like the ones that Napa offers. These aromatic choices have notes of tropical fruits and a zesty finish that make them easy to pair with a variety of fresh foods. Don’t miss the Grgich Hills Estate Fumé Blanc! 

Final Thoughts

Napa has so much to offer, in its wines and in its entire experience. There’s something for everyone, no matter which notes you like to find in your glass. Come to Napa and make memories in your heart and on your tastebuds. When in Napa, you have to check out ELLMAN. Known for being one of the premier Napa family vineyards and family-owned wineries in Napa, ELLMAN is led by renowned winemaker Andy Erickson. Featuring Andy Erickson wine, ELLMAN is one of the most beautiful wineries in Napa. You can try the wine for yourself at one of our Napa tasting rooms - our Downtown Napa tasting rooms are great for any first-timer. Check out our full selection of wines here, or join our mailing list to become a member of the ELLMAN family today. 

Check out these other articles to learn more about Napa Valley wine basics:
Resource 1 | Resource 2 | Resource 3