Due to the favorable nature of the climate and soil, Placer wineries produce a diverse array of varieties, especially those of Italian, Iberian and the Rhône region in southern France. While one might guess Zinfandel, Syrah or Barbera to be Placer’s signature varietal, Sangiovese, Viognier, Grenache, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Malbec and Tempranillo are planted in smaller blocks from Loomis to Auburn and are becoming more prominent in our tasting rooms.

To learn more about these and other varietals visit Wine Folly‘s guide to varietals. 


Barbera is a red Italian wine grape variety that produces good yields and is known for deep color, low tannins and high levels of acid. When young, the wines offer a very intense aroma of fresh red cherries and blackberries. In the lightest versions, notes of cherries, raspberries and blueberries and with notes of blackberry and black cherries in wines made of more ripe grapes. There is a great deal of Barbera in California, but most is planted in the Central Valley, where it is cultivated for blending into high-volume generic reds. However, when grown in premium regions like the Sierra Foothills and cropped properly, it pairs well with food.

  • Grape Origins: Italy
  • Pronunciation: "Bar-bear-ah"
  • Food Pairing: Italian and other Mediterranean cuisines
  • Fun Fact: As of 2000, Barbera was the third most-planted red grape variety in Italy (after Sangiovese and Montepulciano)

Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc is one of the major "black grape varieties" worldwide and has roots dating back to 17th Century France. Cabernet Franc is a medium-bodied red wine loved for its savory, bell pepper-like flavors, medium-high acidity and mouthwatering taste. It is an ideal food pairing wine. You can find single-varietal Cabernet Franc wines, but the variety is also quite popular as blending grape in the famous "Meritage" Bordeaux blend.

  • Grape Origins: Bordeaux region of France
  • Pronunciation: "Cab-err-nay fronk"
  • Food Pairing: Higher acidity makes it possible to pair with tomato-based dishes, vinegar-based sauces (smoky BBQ anyone?) or rich veggies like black beluga lentils as well as roasted pork and lamb.
  • Fun Fact: Cabernet Franc is a parent to Cabernet Sauvignon (the other is Sauvignon Blanc). The crossing occurred sometime during the middle 1600's around southwestern France (Bordeaux).


Affectionately called "The Pinot Noir of the Foothills," Grenache or Garnacha is one of the most widely planted red wine grape varieties in the world. As the dominant varietal in Southern Rhône-Style blends, Grenache is responsible for some of the most delicious and expensive wine in the world. From exalted regions like Châteauneuf-du-Pape to cult California wines, Grenache is just as important in the wine world as Cabernet Sauvignon. It ripens late, so it needs hot, dry conditions such as those found in Spain, where the grape most-likely originated. When produced as a single varietal wine, it's light body but bold fruit character make it a great summer red with flavor profiles which include red fruit (raspberry and strawberry) with a subtle, white pepper spice note, making it a very food-friendly wine, especially around the holidays.

  • Grape Origins: Rhône Valley of France
  • Pronunciation: "Gruh-nosh"
  • Food Pairing: The spice in Grenache makes it a perfect pairing with spiced and herb-heavy dishes including roasted meats, vegetables, and a variety of ethnic foods.
  • Fun Fact: The Most Expensive Grenache comes from Château Rayas and Domaine du Pegau in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and goes for close to $600 a bottle.


Originating from the Bordeaux region of France but more recently popularized in Argentina, Malbec grapes in the Sierra Foothills produce a medium-bodied red wine with fruit flavors of black cherry, pomengranate, plum and raspberry and aromas of cocoa, chocolate, coffee, leather & spice.

  • Grape Origins: Bordeaux region of France
  • Pronunciation: "Mal-beck"
  • Food Pairing: Malbec is great with leaner red meats (ostrich or buffalo anyone?). The wine also does extremely well with funky flavors like blue cheese and rustic flavors like mushrooms and cumin spice.
  • Fun Fact: Today, Argentina leads production of the grape with over 75% of all the acres of Malbec in the world.

Petite Sirah

Petite Sirah (aka Durif or Petite Syrah) was first found growing in France in the mid-1800's. It's loved for its extraordinary deep inky color and full-bodied flavors of blueberry, chocolate, plums and black pepper. Despite its popularity, Petite Sirah is an exceptionally rare grape with less than 10,000 planted acres worldwide, growing mainly in California.

  • Grape Origins: Rhône Valley of France
  • Pronunciation: "Peh-teet sear-ah"
  • Food Pairing: Full-bodied red wines like Petite Sirah have high tannins, which means you'll want to match them up with richer more fatty foods to create synergy. If there is one thing to know about pairing Petite Sirah with food, it is that the wine deserves a food as big and as bold as it is.
  • Fun Fact: Despite it's heavy body, Petite Sirah is not generally meant to be aged very long. This warm-climate grape often loses too much acidity and fruit within the first 7 years to make it a contender for longer term aging. If you're looking for one to lay down in your cellar, check that the acidity and fruit are in balance with the tannin (they will be big, but in balance!)


Sangiovese is a savory, medium-bodied red wine that tends to be a bit of a chameleon depending on where it's grown. Of Italian origin and most well-known as the main component of Chianti, Sangiovese wines offer a wide range of tastes from very earthy and rustic to round and fruit-forward. Regardless of where it's grown, it always exhibits cherry flavors with more subtle notes of tomato, making it very easy to pair with Italian foods.

  • Grape Origins: Italy
  • Pronunciation: "San-gee-oh-vay-see"
  • Food Pairing: Sangiovese pairs with a wide range of foods because of its medium weighted body and savory character. Pairs well with herbs and tomatoes as well as rich roasted meat, cured sausages and hard cheeses.
  • Fun Fact: It might surprise you to know that Sangiovese is actually quite scarse outside of Italy. In terms of world plantings, Sangiovese is less abundant than even little-known Mourvedre.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most popular white wines in the United States. Often referred to as "grassy," it is known for its refreshing crispness, which is due to its high levels of acidity and low amounts of sugar. In warmer climates like the Sierra Foothills, Sauvignon blanc tends to produce bright citrus, melon or apple notes and when slightly chilled, pairs well with fish or cheese, particularly chèvre. It is also known as one of the few wines that can pair well with sushi.

  • Grape Origins: France
  • Pronunciation: "So-vin-yawn blahnk"
  • Food Pairing: The most common pairings with sauvignon blanc are: risotto, pesto sauce, tacos with salsa verde, lighter white flaky fish such as tilapia, halibut and trout, pasta salad and roasted vegetables (brussel sprouts, celery root, squash).
  • Fun Fact: The name Sauvignon Blanc means "Wild White" is one of the most widely planted wine grapes in the world and because of this it has a wide range of styles and flavors.


World-renowned in France's Rhône Valley and known in Australia as Shiraz, Syrah is the workhouse varietal of the Sierra Foothills. It's heartiness and ability to thrive in heat make it an ideal grape for Placer County in particular and it not only stands out by itself as a rustic and spicy full-bodied red wine, but it's the backbone of many blends from the Northern Rhône-style blends. In the Sierra Foothills, the acidity and tannin levels of Syrah allow the wines produced here to have especially favorable aging potential.

  • Grape Origins: Rhône Valley of France
  • Pronunciation: "Sir-ahh"
  • Food Pairing: With its massive full-bodied taste, Syrah pairs great with bold foods – anything from a blue cheese burger to barbecue, the trick is to bring out the subtle nuances in the wine.
  • Fun Fact: The word Syrah may hail from "Syracruse" -a city in Sicily. Syracruse was a powerful city during the ancient Greek rule in 400 BC.


Spain's most popular grape and an up-and-comer in the Sierra Foothills, Tempranillo is a black grape variety widely grown to make full-bodied red wines that aim for that perfect balance of earthiness and fruit. Tempranillo tends to ripen early (reflected in its name) and demands the most aging time in the barrel and bottle but once it's ready, it will knock your socks off with dark berry fruit flavors and hints of leather and spice.

  • Grape Origins: Spain
  • Pronunciation: "temp-rah-nee-yo"
  • Food Pairing: Tempranillo pairs well with all types of food because of its savory qualities and is best with Lasagna, pizza and dishes with tomato-based sauces, bbq and Mexican food.
  • Fun Fact: The Spanish have been drinking Tempranillo heavily for the last 2000 years. Proof of wine in ancient Spain was discovered in 1972, when archaeologists unearthed a mosaic of the wine god Bacchus at Baños de Valdearados in north-central Spain. Tempranillo may well have been the wine shown in the mosaic because it has been in Spain since 800 BC.


Probably the most common white varietal of the Sierra Foothills, Viognier is a full-bodied white wine that originates in southern France. Most loved for its perfumed aromas of peach, tangerine and honeysuckle and it's complexity on the palate, if you love bolder white wines like Chardonnay, Viognier is something you should most definitely consider adding to your cellar. Depending on the producer and how it's made, it will range in intensity from light and spritzy with a touch of bitterness to bold and creamy (much like a buttery Chardonnay). It's also very versatile at different temperatures – serve chilled for a cheese pairing or picnic faire in the summer or let it come up to room temperature for a bold winter white!

  • Grape Origins: Rhône Valley of France
  • Pronunciation: "Vee-own-yay"
  • Food Pairing: Pairs very well with spicy foods like Thai or Indian.
  • Fun Fact: Generally speaking, there are 2 stylistic differences that winemakers choose between when producing Viognier: new oak aging vs neutral/no oak aging. New oak aging delivers a richer creamier taste, lower acidity and aromas of clove, nutmeg and vanilla. Neutral and no oak aging (fermented in stainless steel) will deliver more floral and tropical fruit flavors in the wine while maintaining its acidity and often a subtle bitter note.


Also known as Primitivo, Zinfandel is a variety of black-skinned wine grape grown in over 10 percent of California vineyards, making it quite prevalent in most wine regions throughout the state. You'll likely also find a zinfandel (or two) at most of the wineries in Placer County. Producing different characteristics depending on where it's grown, here in the Sierra Foothills, red berry fruit flavors like raspberry predominate with notes of anise and pepper as well.

  • Grape Origins: DNA analysis has revealed that it is genetically equivalent to the Croatian grapes Crljenak Kaštelanski and Tribidrag, as well as to the Primitivo variety traditionally grown in Apulia (the "heel" of Italy), where it was introduced in the 18th century.
  • Pronunciation: "Zin-fen-del"
  • Food Pairing: Foothill Zinfandels are versatile food wines especially well-matched with hearty dishes such as grilled red meats, tomato-sauce pastas, and flavorful cheeses.
  • Fun Fact: The grape found its way to the United States in the mid-19th century, where it became known by variations of the name "Zinfandel", a name which is probably of Austrian origin.
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