It’s undeniable, we sing Sonoma County’s praises often and with due measure. From its bucolic rolling hills and rugged coastlines to sensational farm-to-table experiences and welcoming locals, it is truly the ultimate northern California destination for those looking for a relaxed getaway filled with charm. And the cherry on top? Sonoma is also a world-class wine region.
Often thought of as Napa Valley’s kid sister, Sonoma County is said to be the birthplace of California’s now-thriving wine industry. Over 500 wineries dot the landscape, with 18 AVAs, or American Viticulture Areas, producing wines from the Pacific Ocean to inland warm valleys.
With so much wine, we want to be sure you’re aware of the award-winning wine region’s usual suspects. Whether you’re heading westward for a tasting or pouring and exploring at home, here’s your chance to get to know a few of the most well-known wines, from cabernet sauvignon to zinfandel and everything in between.
Considered one of the world’s most recognizable grapes and a favorite in the United States (have you heard “Cab is King?”), cabernet sauvignon is a red varietal born out of cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc in France in the 1600s. Now making up 20% of Sonoma County wine produced, the vines can primarily be found in Sonoma Valley, Alexander Valley, Knights Valley, and Dry Creek Valley.
Rich in color and flavor, the popular fruit is now grown across the globe and is typically aged in French oak. Enjoy with fatty, umami-rich foods like red meat, blue cheese, or mushrooms, and expect flavors of dark fruit, tobacco, black pepper, and even the notorious green pepper.
Wine to Try: Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon
Buttery or not, chardonnay continues to be number one when it comes to white wine from Sonoma. Also born in France, specifically the Burgundy region, this grape is the most planted around the globe with its reach spreading from the Pacific Northwest down to New Zealand. The diversity in growing regions allows the fruit to produce some dramatically different flavors ranging from creamy to more citrusy versions.
Full-bodied and golden in color, chardonnay from California is typically oaked and boasts notes of vanilla, coconut, or butterscotch, but more and more producers are going for a cleaner style using neutral oak or stainless steel to let the fruit shine. Chardonnay is great to sip on its own, but it’s a natural match with chicken and turkey dishes, shellfish, and creamy pastas.
Wine to Try: Sonoma-Cutrer Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
One of the oldest grapes in the world, pinot noir has a bit of a cult following. From dedicated festivals since Roman times to major motion pictures (Sideways, anyone?), this delightful grape is constantly leaving its mark. Plants grow best in cooler climates and can be quite finicky and susceptible to disease, making a great glass that much more fruitful.
There’s quite a breadth of flavor in Sonoma County’s pinot noirs, depending if the vines grow closer to the foggy coastline or further inland where sunshine is aplenty. But regardless, pinot noir from Sonoma ages well and exhibits flavors of earth, berries, and sometimes even toast. Pair with sushi, a myriad of cheeses, or duck for a meal that’s as distinct as this beloved grape.
Wine to Try: WALT Bob’s Ranch Pinot Noir
Perhaps it’s the charming color or the diversity in flavor, but pink is in. In fact, it’s hard to find a tasting room that doesn’t serve this crowd favorite. Rosé wines are produced with red wine grapes — from cabernet sauvignon to pinot noir to zinfandel — and a shortened period of contact with the grape’s skins before fermentation, which causes the finished product to blush.
Served chilled, and ranging from still to sparkling, rosé from Sonoma can range from lighter, pale pink wines made in drier styles to deeply hued wines that are fruitier and sweeter. Because of the variety of flavor, rosés can be paired with just about anything, but are best enjoyed outside — preferably while enjoying a picnic or sunny day in Sonoma County.
Wine to Try: Scribe Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir
Even the name sauvignon blanc is wild and wonderful. Stemming from the French word, sauvage, this grape grew with careless abandonment across Bordeaux. Now less wild and a ton more refined, the herbaceous wine gained international fame when it left its European roots and headed to New Zealand in the 1980s.
Dry with a touch of sweetness, California sauvignon blanc is considered to be “warm climate” and tastes like peach and passion fruit with medium acidity. It pairs well with dishes boasting complementary herbal flavors, like parsley, cilantro, and mint, and also works with green salads, white meats, tart cheeses, and vegetarian dishes.
Wine to Try: Benziger Family Winery Paradiso de Maria Sauvignon Blanc
Once you pop, you won’t stop, or so the saying goes. There’s no real need to have an excuse to enjoy some bubbles. Regardless if you’re celebrating a big event or enjoying a casual evening at home, sparkling wines will be a hit — partially because they can be produced from a wide array of grapes and with different levels of sweetness, so there’s a sparkling wine to please every palate.
From extra brut to rosé (and everything in between), there are many delightful ways to experience Sonoma County’s sparkling wines whether you’re searching out dry, fruity, or floral. We think it pairs best with salty, savory foods like caviar, creamy sauces, and fried foods, but is also worth popping a bottle to just say cheers.
Wine to Try: J Vineyards & Winery Cuvée 20 Brut
Syrah may be the lesser known fruit to it’s more established California red wine counterparts, but the sleeper grape is thriving in Sonoma County’s cooler coastal AVAs. Starting it’s wine life span in France, as many of these fruits do, syrah’s reach has expanded so much that the grape variety now goes by two names: syrah and shiraz.
BBurgundy in color, we suggest enjoying this full-bodied juice with hearty food pairings, like barbecued pork with pepper and cumin, or mushrooms and grilled veggies, for those sourcing out vegetarian fare.
Wine to Try: Donelan Obsidian Estate Syrah
Thriving in Sonoma County’s warm climates, zinfandel has had quite the colorful California history and before some deep-rooted investigation, it was thought to be “America’s Grape.” Arriving in the state in the mid-1800s, the grape grew out of fashion as cabernet sauvignon made its red rise to fame. Now in the spotlight again, Sonoma’s zin is a medium-bodied red known for its spice and fruit-driven, almost jammy, characteristics and higher levels in alcohol.
This striking wine can possess a smoky aroma along with flavors of black cherry, raspberry, and hints of pepper. Spicy foods pair best, and we suggest ordering some Thai take-out, or enjoying with Italian dishes or a wide range of hard and soft cheeses.
Wine to Try: Dry Creek Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel