10 Unique Sonoma County Wines

In Sonoma County

Sonoma County is famed for its interpretations of five key wine varietals: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc. However, these are far from the only grape varieties grown and fermented in Sonoma County.

There’s a cornucopia of other wine varietals (and styles) made in Sonoma County, hailing from around the world — and each one has a story. Here, we give you a taste of some of these delicious Sonoma County outliers. 

Albariño, Marimar Estate

Marimar Estate's Albarino pairs well with tapas
Marimar Estate’s Albarino pairs well with tapas

The white grape Albariño originated in the cool, rainy climate of Galicia, Spain, so Spanish-born founder/owner Marimar Torres figured the cool, rainy Sonoma Coast would be the ideal place to grow it in the U.S. But after four unripe years, Torres and her team gave up, grafted the vines onto their slightly warmer Don Miguel Vineyard in the Green Valley AVA , and now have this crisp, tasty Spanish-born white to show for their efforts.

Whole-cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel, this bone-dry white wine has aromas of citrus and honeysuckle, with stone fruits like peach on its bright palate. Try it with grilled seafood, sushi, and Spanish tapas. ($34)

Arrossire di Barbera, Methode Champenoise, Portalupi

Portalupi's Arrossire di Barbera, Methode Champenoise
Portalupi’s Arrossire di Barbera, Methode Champenoise 

The only sparkling Barbera made in Sonoma County, this Northern Italian variety (along with most of Portalupi’s wines) pays homage to owners Jane Portalupi and Tim Borges’ immigrant grandparents, who left Italy to make wine in California. 

A distinctive blush color and strawberry aromas set this elegant bubbly apart, but tight, tiny bubbles and a creamy mousse are the Champagne method all over. Pair with cheese and charcuterie, or simply lift a glass for a toast. ($45)

Aglianico, Unti Vineyards and Winery

Aglianico grapes on the vine
Aglianico grapes on the vine 

This red grape long ago made its way from Greece to southern Italy, thriving in the sunshine of the Campania region (where Naples is the capital). The winery, co-owned by Tuscan-born George Unti, grows its Aglianico grapes in the all-day-sun of the Dry Creek Valley, and makes the wine in the style of Campania’s revered Taurasi DOCG.

The rich, full-bodied result has deep color, pronounced aromas of dried rose petals, prunes and spice; it’s a great pairing for lamb, duck, or pork belly. This structured wine could age at least 7 years — if you can hold out that long. ($50)

French Colombard Halfshell White, Woodenhead

Woodenhead's French Colombard
Woodenhead’s French Colombard 

It’s rare to see this white Bordeaux grape in Sonoma County, and rarer still to see it expressed as a single-varietal wine rather than part of a blend. In France, it’s a traditional component of Cognac and Armagnac.

Dry, crisp and moderately aromatic, with juicy acidity and pronounced minerality, this is a go-to pairing for raw or cooked oysters. Bring a bottle to local oyster spots like Rocker Oysterfeller’s and The Shuckery, and enjoy. ($26)

Gamay Noir, Pax Wines 

Past vintages of Pax Wines' Gamay Noir
Past vintages of Pax Wines’ Gamay Noir 

Winemaker Pax Mahle is best known for his Syrahs, but among his other offerings is Gamay Noir, little seen in this area; also called simply Gamay, this is the signature grape of France’s Beaujolais region. Mahle’s Gamay Noir is grown in two Sonoma County vineyards: One with volcanic soils in Santa Rosa’s Bennett Valley, the other farmed biodynamically in the Mayacamas Mountains. 

Mahle’s Gamay Noir is made using a combo of whole-cluster fermentation and carbonic maceration to conserve its freshness. This light-bodied red displays aromas and flavors of black cherry and pomegranate, as well as savory spices like rosemary and thyme. Best served chilled. ($38)

Grignolino, Idlewild Wines

Idlewild's Grignolino grapes are grown in the Russian River Valley
Idlewild’s Grignolino grapes are grown in the Russian River Valley 

Idlewild’s owner and winemaker Sam Bilbro focuses on traditional Piedmont (northern Italy)  varieties, including pale red Grignolino. In Italian, grignolino means “many pips,” referring to the many seeds in these slow-ripening grapes, which require slow, gentle pressings in order to avoid strongly tannic, bitter wines. 

Bilbro manages this very well. Grown in the Russian River Valley, his light-bodied Grignolino has a nose of fresh and dried flowers, raspberry, and hibiscus, with a bright palate of just-ripe red fruit. Akin to a complex rosé, it pairs well with a wide variety of foods, from charcuterie to mild curries. ($35) 

Grüner Veltliner, Belden Barns

Belden Barns grows the only Gruner Veltliner in Sonoma County
Belden Barns grows the only Gruner Veltliner in Sonoma County

Though it’s the most-planted grape in Austria, Belden Barns is the first winery to grow Grüner Veltliner in Sonoma County, in its Steiner Vineyard atop Sonoma Mountain.

Belden makes this deep-green variety into a dry, pale green wine with pronounced notes of yellow grapefruit and hints of nectarine, white pepper, roasted nuts, and tarragon. A little creaminess speaks to the wine’s high quality, and acid minerality lends a tingly finish. A rare wine that can be paired with asparagus, artichokes and green beans, it’s also lovely with ricotta or yellow curries. ($30)

Muscat of Alexandria 2016, Martinelli

Grape clusters from Martinelli's 2021 harvest; Muscat of Alexandria is on the far right
Grape clusters from Martinelli’s 2021 harvest; Muscat of Alexandria is on the far right

Having originated in North Africa, the large-clustered,  big-berried, pale-green Muscat of Alexandria grape was first made into wine by Ancient Egyptians. Long since used for table grapes and raisins as well, the variety is known for its straightforward taste of  sweet green grapes. Around the world, it’s often made into dessert wines, but Martinelli’s Russian River Valley version is fermented dry. 

The winery’s 140-year-old, head-trained Muscat vines are interspersed with old Zinfandel in their Jackass Hill vineyard, set on one of the steepest hillsides in Sonoma County. Floral and expressive, Martinelli’s Jackass Hill Muscat of Alexandria has aromas of honeysuckle, tangerine, and baked yellow pear, with a viscous palate of orange blossom, apricots and vanilla. ($32)

Pinotage, Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery

Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery's Pinotage
Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery’s Pinotage honors the owners’ South African heritage

Fort Ross co-owners Lester and Linda Schwartz hail from South Africa, where Pinotage is the signature red-black grape. A hybrid of Pinot Noir and Cinsault, it was created in South Africa in 1924 to thrive along the country’s Cape of Good Hope. 

The Schwartzes grow their Pinotage in their Fort Ross-Seaview AVA vineyard. From it, they produce this deep maroon, full-bodied, medium-acid wine with juicy flavors of  blackberry and cherry, hints of black pepper, and a sumptuous, earthy nose not unlike the scent of a campfire. It’s an ideal pairing for barbecued steaks and burgers, with sauces and all. ($58)

Sagrantino, DaVero Winery

DaVero's Sagrantino
DaVero’s Sagrantino can age for up to 20 years

Rare even in its indigenous town of Montefalco in the Umbria region of Italy, this red grape nearly went extinct there before being resurrected in the 1960s by a group of local growers. Now a passion of DaVero co-owner Ridgley Evers, it’s one of only a handful of Sagrantinos produced among Sonoma County’s 425 wineries (along with Orsi Family, Jacuzzi, and VJB Cellars). 

Sagrantino is the most tannic grape in the world, yielding wines that are powerful and deep, with medium acidity and strong structure — like DaVero’s version, which has flavors of black currants, game meats, blueberries, black olive, and red fruit. This wine is ideal with sausages and wild mushrooms, the latter of which are a Sonoma County specialty. Decant a few hours before enjoying, or to reach its full potential, cellar it for about 20 years. ($100)

Written by Melanie Wynne

You Might Also Like

Comstock Wines, Healdsburg

As you plan your upcoming Sonoma County excursion, you imagine that your Wine Country ramble will unfold in a certain…

Hamel Family Wines, wine tasting and non-alcoholic tasting

With a massive flood of zero-proof beverages recently hitting the market, it’s become fairly easy to find nonalcoholic alternatives on…

handmade pizza at Glen Ellen Star
Trip Itineraries

As a Sonoma local, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing Sonoma County’s finest offerings and generally end up with the…

Movie Prop Car On Display at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Occidental

As you meander the wee 60-yard block of downtown, strolling its wooden sidewalks past 19th-century, false-front buildings, you’ll feel as…

Winter scenery at Luther Burbank in Sebastopol CA
Outdoor Activities

Lush greenery, foggy coastlines, seasonal harvests and unique wildlife sightings – Sonoma County in winter is a place where visitors…

Hot air balloon ride in sonoma county
Sightseeing & Tours

Without a doubt, Wine Country is one of the world’s most breathtaking regions to travel through whether you are looking…

Girls Getaway in Sonoma County
Food & Wine

Winter might be considered the off-season for many of the world’s hottest travel destinations, but a Wine Country visit between…

Wine tasting at sunset.
Trip Itineraries

Fall is a busy time in Sonoma County — from colorful hikes to the perfect pumpkin patch, discover what locals…

Farmhouse Inn exterior
Food & Wine

From Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow to Justin and Hailey Bieber, you may bump into a few celebrities at Sonoma…

Pig at Charlie's Acres
Sustainable Travel

Need a pick-me-up? These nonprofits offer ways to spend time with cute animals — you could even try some goat…

See What’s Happening

Share your experience using #SonomaCounty or #LifeOpensUp