Ilona Howell Mountain

2003 Ilona Howell Mountain

Red Blend •Ilona Estate

California: Napa Valley

Offer Expired:Feb 18, 2009 at 11:59 pm
Avg. Price

What We Say


We always feature great wines, but today’s wine is an absolutely superb Howell Mountain red blend. Grab some, Operative, before we run out


Subscribe to our Daily Dispatch (above) and you’ll always know what our Top Secret coupon code of the day is. Every day we issue a new members-only code that entitles you to Free Ground Shipping and, sometimes, an added discount!

Mission Codename: The wine that launched a thousand ships

Operative: Agent Red

Objective: Secure an exceptional Napa blend worthy of your cellar

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Ilona winery

Wine Subject: 2003 Ilona Howell Mountain, Napa Valley

Backgrounder: The Howell Mountain region in the Napa Valley is the birthplace of some of our very favorite wines. We fell in love early on and we have not been disappointed by a high-elevation Howell Mountain wine yet. Today’s wine is a bold wine with a soft side. Read Agent Red’s tasting notes and mission report below

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Dark garnet with a dark, deep and inky core. Bright ruby edges accentuate the look of the wine. When swirled, the wine settles quickly, leaving behind alternating clusters of slow fat legs and fast thin legs that ring the glass

Smell – The intriguing aromas of this wine hit you the moment you open the bottle, delivering unique aromas of vanilla, marshmallow, and earthy barnyard, with dark fruits of dark mixed berries, cassis, black currant and smoky plum. These are followed by soft spice and cedar

Feel – Round, velvet smooth and dry, this is a robust and full-bodied wine with great structure with super-fine and medium-firm tannins. A slight minerality contributes to the fine-grained feel

Taste – Focused and complex with flavors of smoky blackberry, black currant, dark cranberry and black plum, with follow-on flavors of licorice and cigar box

Finish – Long and mouth-coating, lingering with flavors of ripe black fruit, spice, wood and minerality

Conclusion – This Howell Mountain blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, is a truly exceptional Bordeaux styled blend. The wine is drinking beautifully, and I believe that it will continue to progress beautifully for a few more years. Allow extra time in the air, and you will be rewarded with extra smoothness, lusher flavors and a greater aromatic quality.

Mission Report:

Today’s wine came to my attention on a recent visit to a Wine Spies favorite, Burgess Cellars. I had just completed an infiltration of Burgess when, on return to HQ, I found an extra bottle mixed in with the Burgess samples I had absconded with. The bottle was unlabeled.

The note attached to the bottle read:

Agent Red, I know that you love a good intrigue, so I slipped you this bottle. If you like it, I know that you’ll find a way to procure some for your operatives.

It was signed, “Zeus and Leda”.

Zeus and Leda, eh? Greek mythology. A subject of some torment for me of late. That, and actual Greek figures like Alexander the Great and Pliny the Elder, the latter of whom recently paid me a visit in incorporeal form. That I now had a Greek-related mystery made my heart sink – just a little.

Agent Sparkle spotted me sulking, staring at the shiner bottle (that’s an industry term for an unlabeled bottle). She asked me what was up, and I explained my angst and showed her the note. After less than a minute of thought, she declared, “This wine is from Ilona Wine in Napa!”

I stared at her, wordless, mouth agape. Finally I said, “And just how did you reach that conclusion?!”

“Easy. That note provided a clever clue, but maybe a little too simplistic. Follow along: Zeus and Leda. Greek Mythology. A secret asset at Burgess slips you the wine. Burgess has a sister winery, Ilona, whose name derives from Elaine – the mother of Ilona’s owner, for whom the winery is named. The name, Elaine come from Helen. Helen of Troy was the daughter of Zeus and Leda! Viola! Ilona Wine!

If I looked dumbfounded before, I must have looked like a total cretin as I stood there, staring stupidly at her.

She grabbed the bottle from me. “I’m taking this down to analysis,” she declared. And with that, she was gone.

An hour later, I received the following text message:

“Red: Sure enough, this wine does prove to be exactly what I thought it was! It is from Ilona, and its gorgeous. I recommend that you proceed to Ilona immediately. Our Operatives deserve to know about this one. – Sparkle out.”

And procure it I did.

Should I worry about my own job security? Agent Sparkle is just a little too good at this wine game…

Wine Spies Vineyard Check:

The location of the vineyards where today’s fantastic wine hails from is CLASSIFIED. Not further details can be made available at this time.

What the Winery Says

Awards & Accolades:

92 Points – ”This tribute wine opens with a seductive, intense chocolate-tinged dark berry fruit bouquet. Layered flavors and a deep velvety texture provide pleasure galore in Catherine Eddy’s homage to her mother. You can cellar this…but you don’t have to – this single-vineyard blend from one of Napa’s most desirable neighborhoods is supple and delicious now.” – Wine Enthusiast

“While Merlot guides this moderately complex meritage bottling and affords it with a good sense of ripe, black-cherry fruitiness, Cabernet [Sauvignon] comes on strong at the finish and lends a measure of tannic toughness that is hard to miss…however, it does not empty out or dry up, and its impressions of richness and real concentration…” – Connoisseurs’ Guide

“Bright ruby hue. Warm, minty aromas of raspberry, chocolate, tobacco and forest floor. Creamy flavors of cherry, orange peel, mocha, vanillin oak and dried leaves…” – The Wine News

“There’s red fruit at the core of this merlot–cabernet blend, but it’s constricted to somber blackberry by all the oak and grape tannin. The oak comes across in better chocolate and intense, spicy menthol flavors, the grape tannin in a bitter stalky grip. Don’t try to drink this now, but if you go for Howell Mountain power…” – Wine & Spirits

“Deep garnet hue. Pungent claret aromas of mushroom, earth and tea with a note of rhubarb. An earthy nuance runs through a core of red fruits, mocha and tea.” – The Wine News

About This Wine:

Ilona has a deep garnet hue, a complex aroma of spice, black cherries and a balanced level of vanilla, due to its aging in French Oak barrels for 18 months. These intense flavors culminate in a lush finish, which is characteristic of the finest Howell Mountain wines.

Winemaker’s Comments:

The 2003 vintage was quite balanced from a quality and quantity perspective. Full maturity was achieved and the harvest was completed at the end of September. The concentration of fruit and tannins were evenly extracted by the use if rotary fermentation.

About The Winery:

Power and femininity eminate from Howell Mountain – Some of the most powerful, intense “boutique” red wines from California are being grown in the remote Howell Mountain area, situated in the north eastern hills of Napa Valley. Located near the middle of the Howell Mountain AVA is a vineyard of 10 acres with very little slope, nestled meadow-like on this otherwise rugged terrain.

It is from this vineyard, planted to Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc that Ilona was born. The Ilona Vineyard sits at an altitude of 1800 feet and is comprised mostly of compacted volcanic ash called “tuff rock”, which provides an extremely stressed environment for the grapes. At that altitude, temperatures in the vineyard remain cool in the spring, retarding bud-break. However, in the summer the nights are actually warmer than the valley floor, so the growing time is recovered and the harvest is just a few weeks later than the valley below. This is a benefit, as the lengthened “hang time” adds greatly to the layers of flavors and aromas in the resulting wine.

Ilona has a deep garnet hue, a complex aroma of spice, black cherries and a balanced level of vanilla, due to its aging in French Oak barrels for 18 months. These intense flavors culminate in a lush finish, which is characteristic of the finest Howell Mountain wines.

Catherine Eddy, owner of Ilona Vineyards and in the Napa Valley wine business 23 years explains the name, “Ilona is an Eastern European name which over time had evolved into Elaine, my mothers name”. The woman’s profile on the label comes from an ancient Greek coin Ms. Eddy found in Paris. After reading many stories of Greece she got the impression that the women of that time were both very strong, yet feminine. The label and the name set the right tone for this powerful, but also soft and rounded wine.

Technical Analysis:

Vintage: 2003

AVA: Howell Mountain

Vineyard Location: Ilona Estate, Howell Mountain

Grape Varieties: Merlot, Cabernet, and Cabernet Franc

Cases Produced: 875

Release Date: February 2009

As your agent, we can assist in selecting a common carrier for the shipment of wine that you have purchased and own. The majority of states maintain laws and regulations that control or restrict the importation of alcohol. In all cases, the purchaser is responsible for complying with the laws and regulations, including in particular those relating to the import of alcohol, in effect in the state to which the purchaser is shipping alcohol.