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California as a wine producing region has grown in size and importance considerably over the past couple of centuries, and today is the proud producer of more than ninety percent of the United States' wines. Indeed, if California was a country, it would be the fourth largest producer of wine in the world, with a vast range of vineyards covering almost half a million acres. The secret to California's success as a wine region has a lot to do with the high quality of its soils, and the fact that it has an extensive Pacific coastline which perfectly tempers the blazing sunshine it experiences all year round. The winds coming off the ocean cool the vines, and the natural valleys and mountainsides which make up most of the state's wine regions make for ideal areas in which to cultivate a variety of high quality grapes.
When it comes to New World wines, and especially wines from the United States of America, Napa Valley is something of a standard bearer. Over its relatively short history, it has managed to transform itself from being a fairly insignificant region, to becoming one of the most important and highly regarding wine locations on earth. With an ideal climate for viticulture, blazing sunshine and a low level of rainfall, this valley is shielded on many sides by mountain ranges which help it maintain a consistent level of heat, light and moisture throughout the year. Today, Napa Valley is a home of innovation and quality, with dozens of grape varietals thriving in the fertile soils. However, the main varietals grown there have always been Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Zinfandel, and the wines they produce are constantly lauded by critics and competitions across the globe.
The precise origins of what became known as the Zinfandel grape variety are uncertain, although it has clear genetic equivalents in both Puglia and Croatia. However, when it was brought to the New World in the mid 19th century, it became known as the Zinfandel, and has been consistently popular and widely grown ever since. These very dark and very round grapes have a remarkably high sugar content, resulting in relatively high levels of alcohol in the wines they are made into, with bottles often displaying as much as fifteen percent. What makes the Zinfandel such an interesting grape, though, is the fact that the flavors produced by this varietal vary considerably depending on the climate they are grown in. In cooler valley regions, the Zinfandel grapes result in wines which hold strong flavors of tart and sweet fruits; raspberry, redcurrant and sweet cherry, held in a very smooth and silky liquid. Conversely, warmer regions result in more complex and spicy notes, including anise, pepper and hedgerow berries.