Lesser-Known Varietals

Rebecca Germolus on Jan 10, 2018

Even though Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Pinot Noir might be your favorite go-to wines, do you ever explore some of the lesser-known varietals?

Trying new wines can be fun, exciting, and palate expanding. When I recently paired Mounts Grenache with juicy pork tenderloin rubbed with a spice blend, or deLorimier Malbec with skirt steak and chimichurri sauce, my taste buds savored the virtues of the perfect wine and food pairing.

Exploring Lesser Known Varietals

The wineries along the Wine Road produce plenty of the mainstream wines, but they also have lots of lesser-known varietal gems. When is the last time you enjoyed a Carignane or Sangiovese or Viognier? Those are just a couple of the lesser-known varietals you can taste along the Wine Road.

A grape picking bin filled with Acorn Winery's Medley field blend
Grapes used to produced ACORN Winery’s Medley, a field blend of many lesser-known varieties.

With Winter WINEland happening this weekend (January 13 & 14), it is a great opportunity to discover some new wineries you haven’t tried before and visit some of your favorites as well. If you are wondering how to find some of the lesser-known varietals, the Wine Road’s website has an excellent tool to help you out. Visit the Wineries page and look for the drop down list under “Search by Wine Type.” There you can view a long list of varietals, select one, and find wineries that produce that varietal. Couldn’t be simpler. Some of the varietals you may not have heard of before, while others will be those you often enjoy.

Diving Deeper

So what is the big deal about lesser-known varietals? There are over 10,000 grape varieties grown worldwide, and yet most of us tend to drink the same varietals over and over again. (Note: a grape type is a called a variety and when produced into wine, it is referred as a varietal.)

With so many varietals produced, we might be missing out on wines that we’d love if we only tried them. It’s time to take an adventure into new wine varietal territory. We don’t have to go any further than the Wine Road to taste wines with origins in distant lands.

Traveling the World

If you don’t have a huge travel budget, but want to taste wines from Spain, visit Mercury Wine in Geyserville or Cellars of Sonoma in Healdsburg to try a Tempranillo. Love Italian varietals like Barbera, Sangiovese, or the very tough to find Ciliegiolo, you can find them along the Wine Road. Amphora Winery in Dry Creek Valley produces several lesser-known Italian varietals, including Barbera, Teroldego, and Aglianico.

image of Amphora Winery's 2013 Mourvedre and 2010 TempranilloSipping Italian Varietals

For Winter WINEland 2018, Colagrossi Winery in Windsor will focus on their Italian varietals, as they release their new Rosé of Sangiovese, Sangiovese, Barbera, and Ciliegiolo. If you can’t get enough of varietals that originated in Italy, you can also find them at several other wineries along the Wine Road, like D’Argenzio, Hook & Ladder, Lago di Merlo, Portalupi, Ramazzotti, Selby, and more.

Four of Colagrossi's lesser-known Italian varietals including Ciliegiolo.
Four of Colagrossi’s lesser-known Italian varietals including Ciliegiolo.

French Varietals Abound

The origins of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are attributed to France, and it is easy to find these wines. But, there are so many other delicious lesser-known French varietals to discover. A traditional Bordeaux blend consists of two or more of the following: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. In the past 10+years, more wineries have been producing each of these varietals as a stand-alone wine. I’ve become very fond of both Malbec and Petit Verdot. If you’d like taste a both these varietals in one stop, visit Cellars of Sonoma off the square in downtown Healdsburg and try Estate 1856’s versions.

If you want to explore some other French varietals, check out Alicante Bouschet, Chenin Blanc, or Valdiguie to name only a few.

Bottle of Frinck Cinsaut with two Cinsaut grape bunches
Frick Winery offers a delicious array of lesser-known varietals.


Rhônes Are All The Rage

The Rhône region of France has inspired many California winemakers to plant or purchase Rhône grapes. Rhône varietals and blends have become so popular that the Wine Road is having a special event this spring dedicated just to Rhône wines. But, you don’t have to wait until the spring Rhône event to start enjoying these wines.

Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsaut, Counoise, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Picpoul Blanc are some of the Rhône varietals you can experience along the Wine Road. Frick Winery in Dry Creek Valley specializes in Rhône wines, and produces eight Rhône varietals and five blends.

Rhône Blends

If you are a fan of Rhône blends, be sure to check out Carol Shelton’s Coquille Blanc—a delicious blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, and Grenache Blanc.

Mounts Family Winery offers several Rhône varietals, and if you want to enjoy some amazing Rhône blends, check out their Vera Blanc and Vera Noir. The Vera Blanc is a white blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc, and Marsanne. The Vera Noir is a red blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, and Counoise. Mounts will be pouring both of these wines during Winter WINEland 2018.

Mounts Family Winery's Rhone wines with a picturesque background
Mounts Family Winery wines


Yet More Options

There are many more wineries along the Wine Road that offer Rhône varietals and blends, and oodles more produce other lesser-known varietals and blends. Here is a short list of a few other wineries specializing in lesser-known varietals:

Winter WINEland is the perfect opportunity to explore and expand your palate. Advance ticket sales ended, but all participating wineries will have tickets at the door when the event begins on Saturday, January 13 at 11 a.m. Weekend tickets are $60, Sunday only are $50, and $10 for designated drivers.

Happy Sipping!

#Wineland2018 @TheWineRoad #AlongTheWineRoad #lesserknown

Cover image is Einset grapes from ACORN Winery’s Alegría Vineyards, courtesy of Bill Nachbaur.

Posted by Rebecca Germolus

Rebecca Germolus, co-owner of Maximum Value Marketing, loves Sonoma County and playing along the Wine Road. Rebecca daily immerses herself in wine country by providing cost-effective marketing and writing solutions to wineries and restaurants.

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