Hope springs eternal in Sonoma County, where year in and year out there are new wineries making new wines and existing wineries trying new things. Here's our annual list of who to keep an eye on in the coming year, most of them small, eclectic projects devoted to producing fine things to drink.
Idlewild Wines (<a href="idlewildwines.com" target="_blank">idlewildwines.com</a>) is a very exciting case in point. It's the label of Healdsburg-based husband-and-wife team Jessica Boone Bilbro, whose day job is as winemaker at Passalacqua Winery, and Sam Bilbro, who grew up walking vineyards alongside his winemaker dad at Marietta Cellars. They make California wines inspired by Italy's Piedmont region.
Their debut of 2012 vintage wines includes an arneis wine from the Fox Hill Vineyards along Old River Road southeast of Ukiah. First planted in the 1960s, Italian varieties dominate; it is also where Idlewild sources cortese and dolcetto.
The arneis ($28) opens with pretty floral notes and flavors of pear and lime, finishing with beautifully textured acidity. Served chilled, it's typically enjoyed young with light appetizers like prosciutto or shellfish.
The couple says they're aiming for a fine line between gulpability and seriousness with their wines. They're looking to offer high-toned perfume on the nose while maintaining structure, so that the wines are delicious with food, complex enough to remain memorable and compellingly desirable, to keep you wanting more.
Bilbro also likens their goal to something he often heard his dad talking about, which was maintaining a "purity of fruit" -#8212; finding a balanced contrast between a wine's perfume and its tannins without the undue influence of too much oak.
The Idlewild 2012 Cortese ($30), the Italian word for "courteous," is by nature a courteous grape, willing to ripen and wait patiently on the vine to be picked, without pumping out more sugars. Extremely hard to find outside of the Piedmont town of Gavi, Idlewild's is aromatic in orange peel and anise, and the finish offers a suggestion of honey or butterscotch.
Idlewild's 2012 Grenache Gris ($28) is also from Mendocino, from the Gibson Ranch, a section of McDowell Valley Vineyards containing 100-plus-year-old grenache gris vines, considered some of the oldest in the world. Juicy, it's bright in fresh blood-orange and savory herb flavors, structured and balanced, a perfect food wine. The Idlewild syrah-based Vin Gris ($22) from Dry Creek Valley fruit, is sadly, long sold out.
Idlewild reds include a 2012 dolcetto ($30) also sourced from Fox Hill, gorgeous in cranberry and cherry liqueur flavors with a gently soft texture, very gulpable. Pair it with pizza or antipasti and you're there.
Lastly, the couple found old-vine carignan ($32) from the historic Testa Vineyard in Calpella to produce a silky, refined version of the oft-rustic wine, rich in dark cherry and peppery sage.