Chances are, you came to Sonoma to taste wine. Maybe you’re even the type who brings an extra empty suitcase just for filling with your favorite finds and recent releases. But there’s a whole slew of other carefully crafted artisan goods that deserve some suitcase space, too. No, we’re not saying to forget your favorite wines. In fact, we’ve organized these other gustatory gems, from sauces and shrubs to teas and cheese, based on their unique attributes reminiscent or similar to the area’s best wines. The result is an ever-expanded palate we think you’ll be thankful for.
And we don’t mean “pairing” in the "must-eat-together" sense.
Gordan Knot Winery 2014 Albariño
El Yuca Mayan Habanero Sauce
They’re both completely unexpected exotica from the hills of Sonoma. Albariño is a Spanish white variety not often found in the United States, and Gordian owners/winemakers Tim Meinken and Anne Giere keep it even rarer; you pretty much have to know someone to get your hands on a bottle. As for the habanero sauce, it’s made with organic chiles smoked in traditional Yucatán style over local oak. Mateo Granados – owner of Mateo’s Cocina Latina right across the street from h2hotel – grows his own habaneros at his Healdsburg home/boutique farm, harvests them at varying degrees of ripeness (depending on the flavor profile he wants), and bottles the sauces in tiny batches of four different styles. Try the deep, dark Ahumado, blended with a bit of sweet carrot and a dash of local Preston olive oil – you’ll find the subtle smoky flavor is brightened with hints of tamarind and tropical ripe mango.
Mathis Wine 2015 Rosé de grenache
Shed Blood orange shrub
You’d think that this pale pink wine would be sweet. Yet, because it’s made in a classic Provençal style, it’s softer and refreshing, layered with a dry finish that comes partly because the grapes are picked at dawn when they are cool and their sugar content is lower (a result of the cooler night temp). Similarly misleading is this blood-orange flavored drink, known as a “shrub.” Not like the plant, but a drinking vinegar that was created during the Colonial Era, as a way to preserve fruit long after harvest. It’s tongue tingling to sip on its own and delightful when splashed over sparkling water, sparkling wine, or as a cocktail mix-in. Some shrubs do load on the sugar, but the Shed version showcases juiced blood oranges and shaved peel kicked up with champagne vinegar, a bit of organic sugar, plenty of sparkling water, and fresh rosemary sprigs. The result is a less sweet, aromatic entry flavor followed by wonderful sharp citrus and earthy herb.
Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company Original Blue cheese
The precise location makes all the difference in these two products. Croix Estate winemaker Kirk Venge claims that the vineyard’s “primordial” spot set upon million-year-old sediments studded with ancient oaks, blanketed in cold air, and pierced by continual sun exposure contributes directly to this wine’s bouquet of raw honey, marmalade, toasted pine nuts, and toasted oak. As for the Original Blue, made from raw milk and aged for three-and-a-half months, it’s creamy and tangy with a medium punch of blue flavor and a perfect balance of salt. Bob Giacomini, who has been milking his Holstein cows here since 1959, says that can be attributed to the high quality of the farm’s pastures and their proximity to Tomales Bay.
Stolen Fruit Fruit Hibiscus-Grenache Cocktail Mixer
If you’re keen on this grenache, here’s a different way to enjoy the rare-for-Northern California varietal that is just starting to get its due in Sonoma: Mix it in a cocktail. Under the new brand, Stolen Fruit, Healdsburg-based chef Peter Brown makes cocktail mixers using crushed-grape by-product from local wineries. This version blends grenache grape juice concentrate and verjus with dried hibiscus flowers. It delivers an exciting, fresh jolt of wild berry sparked with citrus zest, and is marvelous with rum, tequila, or mezcal.
If you appreciate this blended wine’s lavish quilt of different styles of pinot noir – harvested from cool vineyard sites across the Sonoma Coast, plus Napa Valley’s steep hillside Cougar Rock Vineyard and La Perla Vineyard – then you’ll also enjoy this tea’s comparable meticulous layering. Jammy natural pomegranate, cranberry, peony petals, and plum all come together in the end to bloom as a mouthwatering tea that evolves even more in the cup as you allow it to steep.
Front Porch Farm
2012 Russian River Valley Zinfandel Floriani Red Corn Polenta
Owner and winemaker Don Albini does everything the old-fashioned way when making this small-production zin – all the grapes are handpicked, hand-punched, even bottled with a hand-operated corker, which results in this natural and high-quality medium- to full-bodied wine. Similarly, Peter Buckley of Front Porch Farm maintains the integrity of his heirloom Floriani Flint corn, an Italian heritage variety that was a staple centuries ago, using the old-fashioned and labor-intensive stone-milling method. It creates an authentic whole-grain cornmeal that is particularly pretty with a rose-pink speckled cast, a remarkably rich and complex flavor, and higher nutritional benefits than typical commercial polenta.
If you’re drawn to this sangiovese – made from small, dark, intensely tannic berries that give this wine rich spice and leather notes – you like bite. And nothing shares that characteristic like these olive oils that have a peppery finish or even a slight burn at the back of your mouth. It all starts with the trees, which were planted in 1988 from cuttings from ancient olive groves in Tuscany by DaVero founders Ridgely Evers and Colleen McGlynn. Some 4,500 of the trees now thrive at the couple’s Olive Ridge Ranch in Dry Creek Valley with another few hundred at their Healdsburg winery. Evers makes his own biodynamic estate oils, hand-harvesting the fruit in the fall and pressing them the day they are picked. Crushing with a traditional stone wheel helps capture the fruit’s richness, while a blade mill technique unleashes the pepperiness.
They both received an extra “made with care” stamp of approval. Bearing the name of celeb chef Charlie Palmer – also the head of Hotel Healdsburg’s Dry Creek Kitchen – on its label, this standout sparkling was first produced 20 years ago in partnership with the Sterling family, owners of the prestigious Iron Horse Winery. As for the cider, father-son team David and Robert Cordtz worked long and hard to make this reserve cider – with notes of wildberry and bramble with bright, tart apple – worthy of their family name by aging it for seven months in American oak barrels that formerly held zinfandel wine. As a final salute to their efforts, each bottle is individually paper wrapped, numbered, and personally signed by David, the cidermaster.
Both are made by women who employ particular processes to coax out certain flavors. Merry Edwards uses a process inspired by French passerillage, where the grapes are dried after picking to concentrate flavors and sugar. The result is a more succulent, honeyed wine, brimming with ripe fruit, such as nectarine, peach, mango, and apricot, elevated with aromas of crème brûlée, poached pears, and cardamom. Peach queen Gayle Okumura Sullivan – who owns a rustic farm stand that sits right in front of the orchards in Dry Creek Valley – uses different peach varieties as the season changes, so depending on her pick and the way she prepares it, you may get delicate, floral Snow King or a bolder, dark Zee Lady. Part of the joy is in taking a taste and discovering what flavors she has drawn out based on each week’s different harvest.