Thu 22 May 2014
When I begin a post that way — “Worth a Search” — you know, My Readers, that the wines under review are limited in production. That’s certainly true of these three examples from Idlewild Wines, a project run by Sam Bilbro and Jessica Boone Bilbro. There’s a certain pedigree; Sam’s father, Chris Bilbro, started Marietta cellars in 1979, and Sam grew up in the wine business. Jessica has a degree in zoology but fell in love with winemaking and worked at Edgewood Estate, Armida Winery and Passalacqua. Idlewild is a small young winery at the vanguard of what’s most important in California now. No chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, no cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir is made here. Instead, we have out-of-the-way French and Italian grape varieties like grenache gris, arneis, cortese. Alcohol levels are moderate. New oak dares not show its face. Meticulous attention to detail is made, yet the wines are more nurtured and encouraged than manipulated. Prices are reasonable. I am, frankly, deeply enamored of these wines and wish that they were made in quantities to render them more accessible to My Readers. That not being the case, you’ll have to search them out. They’re lovely wines for drinking this Summer.
These wines were samples for review. Images from idlewildwines.com
The Yorkville Highlands AVA, in Mendocino County, was approved in 1998. Its rocky outcroppings separate Mendocino’s Anderson Valley from Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley. The Idlewild Vin Gris 2013, Yorkville Highlands, is made completely from grenache grapes briefly macerated, slowly fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged four months in neutral oak barrels. The color is very pale onion skin, almost parchment; everything is subtle and nuanced; my comment on Facebook was “Tissues of delicacy woven on a steel loom,” and I stand by that assessment. Hints of peach and yellow plum, with some of the pithiness of the stone; notes of mandarin orange and grapefruit zest; summer flowers in a dry meadow; the whole package fresh and refreshing but offering pleasing density and impact on the palate; the texture is soft and appealing but enlivened by a slap of crystalline acidity. Does rose get any better than this? Not in my book. Alcohol NA. Drink into 2015. Production was 200 cases. Excellent. About $22.
Grenache gris is a pinkish-gray mutation of the red grenache grape, rarely found even in the South of France and then usually not made into its own wine. It is not the same as grenache blanc. The grapes for the Idlewild Grenache Gris 2013, Mendocino, derive from vines at Gibson Ranch in McDowell Valley that are more than 100 years old. The grapes were foot-trod rather than crushed mechanically; after fermentation, the wine aged four months in neutral French oak barrels. The color is radiant mulberry-tourmaline; the nose is pure raspberry and black currants with hints of rose petals, rhubarb and pomegranate, summer meadows, pomander (cloves, allspice and citrus). A few moments in the glass bring in notes of tomato skin and slightly mushroomy earthiness; this is very much a wine of the garden and the fields, lightly herbal and savory and altogether wild and alluring. In style, it resembles a Bordeaux clairette, falling between a rose and a light-bodied red wine. 12.9 percent alcohol. Truly lovely and unusual. Drink through 2015. Production was 230 cases. Excellent. About $22.
Not much arneis is grown in the U.S.A., but the wine that Sam Bilbro and Jessica Boone Bilbro make from the Fox Hill Vineyard, southeast of Ukiah, on Mendocino’s Talmage Bench, rivals many of the examples that I have tasted from Piedmont, the grape’s home. The color of the Idlewild Fox Hill Vineyard Arneis 2013, Mendocino, is brilliant light gold; aromas of bees’-wax, lanolin, honeysuckle and jasmine are wreathed with spiced pear, along with a slightly honeyed aura and almond notes. The wine is dry, silky and supple, laid over a foundation of dusky earthy and herbal elements, lime and roasted lemon flavors and a touch of grapefruit bitterness and limestone on the finish; some time in the glass brings hints of lychee and mango to the fore. A beguiling blend of limpid transparency and steel-like scaffolding. 13.6 percent alcohol. Production was 145 cases. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $28.