When we set out to build Underground Cellar we knew we wanted to add value not only through the discounts and free wine that our members receive but also through education. So with that in mind, we thought we’d discuss the California wine regions that produce some of the best wines in the world.

These regions have other names that you might recognize: Napa, Sonoma, Lodi, and Paso Robles. They’re all just a short drive from San Francisco and are well worth exploring if you find yourself on the coast.

1 – The North Coast

The North Coast is a unique wine region for California as it’s the only one that lies on a coast. This is where some of California’s first vines were planted more than a century ago, including those at the Buena Vista Carneros Estate pictured above.

Nowadays, you’ll find other plants growing in this region, but not many — about 3% of all wine grapes produced in Northern California are planted here.

2 – The Central Coast

This wine region doesn’t get as much attention as the others, but it should! Located just north of Los Angeles, the mild climate means that growing grapes is less expensive than elsewhere in California, resulting in some fantastic wines at very affordable prices. This is also one of two regions where you’ll find the official state grape — the Mission grape.

Wineries like Hahn make wines in this region very well, like their Chardonnay below…

Deep fruit flavors on the palate with lovely crisp acidity on the finish. No buttery or oaky notes here — it’s all California sunshine! Nevertheless, there are pockets of some excellent Syrah, and I hope to see more from the region soon.

3 – The Central Valley

Located just a few hours south of San Francisco, you’ll find this is a hot part of the state where most wines are grown on large estates set alongside each other. It’s a unique wine-growing experience because vineyards line hillsides up to the horizon…

Here you’ll find wines like Kendall Jackson’s Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay harvested from vines at their iconic winery in Santa Rosa. This wine is clean and crisp, with some tropical notes on the palate. It would match perfectly with your favorite Thai takeout or even a nice Caprese salad!

4 – The South Coast

I’m a huge fan of Pinot Noir, which is why I lean toward the South Coast for my favorite wines. While it’s warmer than many of the regions in California, you’ll find that cooler breezes from the Pacific Ocean help keep temperatures lower and even help with some frost control due to humidity.

These wines are elegant, rich, and full-bodied. I also find them to be the most food-friendly of all California reds.

Wineries like Silver Oak know how to make some fantastic wine in this region. Their Cabernet Sauvignon is aged in oak for over 20 months, giving it just the right mix of oak and fruit on the palate.

5 – The Sierra Foothills

Just like any place, there are always two sides to a coin. While it may be warmer in most of California (the North Coast is the exception), temperatures drop in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This means that many vines were planted high in altitude where the nights are cooler.

Resulting wines include everything from Chardonnay to Cabernet Sauvignon, which you’ll find at places like Turley Wine Cellars’ winery in Lodi. I recommend their Zinfandel – it’s perfect for sipping on a weekend evening or even the next time you watch the sunset.

There’s a lot to love about California and its wine regions. The best part is you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy great wines – most can be found for less than $20! Now that is what I call affordable luxury.