Local French varietal faves
While the most prominent grapes planted in Sonoma County are chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon, over 60 varieties are planted here, including many varieties from the Rhone Valley in France.
Syrah, carignane, grenache, mourvedre, cinsault, viognier, marsanne, roussanne, grenache gris, grenache blanc and ricpoul sound familiar?
Wines from the Rhone region are among the most food-friendly, balanced and delicious wines on the planet. Among the most popular wines from the Rhone (at least in the U.S.) are grenache-based blends and syrah-based blends. Grenache blends are generally softer and rounder with more berry flavors, while syrah heavy blends tend to have more meaty notes, black or white pepper and tannin.
While Carol Shelton Wines may be best known for their vineyard designate and old vine zinfandels, winemaker Shelton fell in love with Rhone varieties when she first tasted the wines from Paso Robles-based Tablas Creek Vineyard, a pioneer of California’s Rhone movement.
Carol Shelton’s Rhone varietal wines include their Wild Thing Viognier; Couquille Rouge, a mourvedre, carignane, grenache blend; and Oat Valley Carignane, made from 70-year-old, dry-farmed Alexander Valley carignane.
Make an appointment to taste at Carol Shelton Wines any day of the week between the hours of 11am and 4pm. Appointments preferred due to limited space, but walk-ins are welcome at 3354-B Coffey La., Santa Rosa. Booking and more information available at carolshelton.com.
In 2009, Joe Donelan decided to branch out and start a family brand with his sons, Tripp and Cushing. The focus at Donelan is on making wines that showcase unique sites and cool climate syrahs, Rhone varietal blends, pinot noir and chardonnay.
The winery’s flagship Rhone wines include their Cuvee Moriah, Cuvee Christine and roussanne-viognier blend. The winery also makes a Kobler Vineyard Viognier, Kobler Vineyard Syrah and rosé of grenache, syrah and pinot noir.
Due to limited sales stock, Donelan is currently only offering tastings by appointment to their wine club members and current customers. More information is available at donelanwines.com.
Located on a 7.7-acre estate in the Dry Creek Valley, Frick Winery crafts small batch wines made exclusively from homegrown Rhone grape varieties that include carignane, cinsault, counoise, mourvedre, syrah and viognier. The focus here is on natural winemaking using native yeasts, no fining or filtering, and minimal use of new oak.
Tastings are available at Frick (for groups of four or fewer guests) by appointment on Friday through Sunday between 11am and 4:30pm. To find out more and to book a tasting, visit frickwinestore.com.
Jeff Cohn is so passionate about Rhone varieties that he left his job as winemaker at Rosenblum Cellars in the early 2000s to focus fully on his own winery (founded in 1996), specializing in single vineyard bottlings of Rhone varieties and zinfandel.
Jeff Cohn Cellars’ Healdsburg tasting room opened in 2017, after they moved their business from Oakland to Sonoma County. The winery produces four different syrahs from specific vineyard sites, a GSM (grenache, syrah, mourvedre blend), grenache, mourvedre, viognier and a sparkling brut rosé of grenache, syrah, mourvedre. The fruit is sourced from select vineyard sites in the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, Sonoma Valley and Rockpile AVAs.
Cohn also partners with Yves Gangloff, a winemaker in the Condrieu region of the northern Rhone region, on a Rhone-style viognier called 2 Guys 2 Barrels.
Jeff Cohn Cellars’ tasting room (34 North St., Healdsburg) offers tastings by appointment, daily, until 4:30pm. Wines by the glass are available until 5:30pm. Walk-ins are welcome, though reservations are recommended. Details and bookings are available at jeffcohncellars.com.
Passaggio founder and winemaker Cynthia Cosco loves working with unique grape varieties to craft lighter bodied wines that are easy to drink and pair well with food. Passaggio focuses primarily on Italian and Rhone varieties. The winery’s Rhone varieties and blends include grenache blanc, GSM, grenache, syrah, mourvedre and carignane. The grapes for these wines are grown primarily in the Sonoma Valley and Clarksburg AVAs, which are recognized as having growing conditions perfectly suited to Southern Rhone varieties.
Passaggio Wines’ tasting room is located in Glen Ellen’s historic Jack London Village (14301 Arnold Dr.) and is open for tasting Thursday through Sunday. Reservations are not required for groups of five or fewer people. More information is available at passaggiowines.com.
Founded by Phil Coturri, a long-time Sonoma County vineyard manager and sustainable agriculture guru, and his wife, Arden, in 2007, Sixteen 600 focuses on small-batch, single-vineyard wines made with organically-farmed grapes. The Coturris make Rhone varieties and blends, field blends, zinfandel and cabernet. Their Rhone varietal wines include a grenache rosé, two different single vineyard grenaches, a grenache-mourvedre blend, a single vineyard syrah and a marsanne.
Book an eclectic, comparative tasting experience at Sixteen 600’s tasting room (589 First St. West, Sonoma) via online booking form (winerysixteen600.com). To schedule an appointment for groups of six or more people, call them at 707-721-1805 or email them at [email protected].
This small Sonoma County winery sources fruit from select organic and old vine vineyards (including their own small vineyard) and focuses primarily on naturally made wines from organic and/or sustainably grown grapes produced in small lots.
As founder William Allen says on Two Shepherds’ website, “In the beginning, we specialized in Rhone varieties. Then, fun grapes like trousseau gris and pinot meunier popped up, and we couldn’t say no.” Most of the wines that Two Shepherds makes are still Rhone varietal wines or blends. From old vine cinsault made from 130-plus-year-old vines, carignane, grenache blanc and roussanne, to skin-fermented grenache gris, sparkling carbonic carignane, fun conferments with varieties like grenache gris and grenache, and pét-nat of picpoul and grenache blanc, there’s something for every type of wine drinker here.
Region is a unique wine bar that serves as a connection to 20 plus micro-wineries from Sonoma County that, in most cases, don’t have their own wineries with tasting rooms. They offer over 100 wines by the glass (or taste) and over 60 varietals, including a handful of Rhone varietal wines. This makes Region, located in Sebastopol’s Barlow Market District, a great place to try a few different Sonoma County grown Rhone varietal wines.
Currently on the list at Region are Front Porch Farm’s Grenache Blanc, Kobler Estate’s Syrah and Viognier and Thirty Seven Wines’ Grenache. However, their menu of wines is constantly rotating, so Rhone lovers are sure to find something new each time they visit. Find more information at drinkregion.com.