Idaho Wine Industry’s stock continues to rise
The fist grapes were planted 153 years ago. But today, the Gem state’s wine industry is coming into its own.
More than 50 wines dot the state from the top of the panhandle to the Nevada border. Legitimacy has come in the form of three federally recognized American Viticultural Areas (the Snake River Valley, the Lewis-Clark Valley, and the Eagle Foothills.
Idaho wines are winning medals at international wine competitions across the national wine media is starting to pay attention.
Precept Wine, based in Seattle, dominates the Idaho wine landscape, owning two of the largest wineries (Ste. Chappelle and Sawtooth) and the state’s biggest vineyard (Skyline), which feeds grapes to much of the industry. We’re starting to see more vineyard plantings and new producers coming onto the scene.
The state still seeks a signature grape and a greater abundance of grapes. The main growing region has a lot going for it: high-elevation vineyards, quality soils, reasonably wide open spaces, several talented winemakers coming into their own, and access to customers in a dynamic metro area (Boise).
Here are several examples of Idaho wine we’ve tasted recently. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Sawtooth Estate Winery 2015 Chardonnay, Snake River Valley, $15
Best Buy! Boise-native Meredith Smith invests 12 months in a French oak program of 30 percent new barrels, making for inviting aromas of toasted buttermilk biscuits and Nilla Wafer. Creamy vanilla and lemony flavors combine to create a light-bodied and balanced Chardonnay at an affordable price.
Production: 1,000 cases
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2016 Lolo White Wine, Lewis-Clark Valley, $18
Arnett Vineyard in Clarkston, Wash., and Umiker Vineyard in Lewiston, Idaho, come together for this aromatic blend that continues to features Pinot Gris (25%), Muscat (22%) and Gewurztraminer (17%) but there are also significant contributions of Chardonnay (19%) and Viognier (14%). There’s a tropical theme because of the three varieties of Muscat (Ottonel, Canelli and Orange) from the Umikers site at 1,200 feet elevation with lychee, rosewater, Circus Peanut candy and minerality. In years past, this wine has carried a significant amount of sweetness, but this vintage finishes out at 0.5% residual sugar, and the lingering burst of pink grapefruit acidity makes this an easy drinker.
Production: 62 cases
Coiled Wines 2015 Sparkling Rizza, Snake River Valley, $28
Leslie Preston trained in Napa’s tony Stags Leap District where Cab is king, but the Idaho native continues to devote more of her time and energy to Riesling in multiple forms, including her fun bubbles project that continues to grow. She collaborates with Andrew Davis of Radiant Sparkling Wine Co., in Dundee, Ore., and they capture aromas of nectarine, pear syrup, apple pectin and cinnamon powder. Its delicate and fine-sized bubbles make for a remarkable palate experience focused on Meyer lemon and Key Lime Pie flavors. A perfect balance of fruit, sugar and acidity led to its award as best sparkling wine at the 2017 Cascadia Wine Competition.
Production: 450 cases
Indian Creek Winery 2014 Touriga Naçional, Snake River Valley, $29
While this traditional Port-style variety finds its way into Mike McClure’s fortified program, these three barrels off Arena Valley Vineyard from the 2014 vintage proved too stellar to blend away, prompting the University of Idaho grad to produce this standalone bottling. Viewed as Portugal’s top red and its answer to Cab, McClure presents it in delicious fashion. There are enticing hints of blueberry, leather, tobacco leaf and chalkboard dust, backed by tannins that offer great tension and graphite. Enjoy now with well-marbled meats, but its delicious Marionberry acidity and managed alcohol also will allow it to age and soften.
Production: 75 cases
Telaya Wine Co. 2014 Syrah, Snake River Valley, $30
The Sullivans continue to grow their program in Idaho’s Snake River Valley, and they doubled production of their dark and savory Syrah off Sawtooth Vineyard for the 2014 vintage. The fragrant nose of mocha, salted caramel and cola includes black olive, sandalwood and toast – signs of the 20 months in French oak. Its pleasing structure of dark blue fruit, akin to black currant, plum and blueberry, includes the late arrival of tannins reminiscent of espresso grounds. These wines are widely available throughout Boise, including Bodo restaurants such as Capitol Cellars, Chandler’s Fork, Juniper and Mai Thai.
Production: 225 cases
Fujishin Family Cellars 2014 Syrah, Snake River Valley, $25
Snake River Valley native Martin Fujishin has displayed a knack for blending that has earned him national attention with his Rhône-inspired Amatino. However, the 2014 vintage prompted him to release a standalone Syrah, something he doesn’t do every year. Polo Cove, a large block adjacent to acclaimed Fraser Vineyard, is a core of the Fujishin Syrah program, and it accounts for fresh and fun aromas of cherry juice, anise and cedar. The focus remains on the fruit throughout, making for approachable flavors of sweet blueberry and pomegranate with supple tannins and a pinch of clove in the finish.
Production: 68 cases
Cinder Wines 2014 Syrah, Snake River Valley, $29
The promise of Syrah grown in the high-elevation of Idaho’s Snake River Valley helped lure Melanie Krause back home to launch her own winery, and her continued excellence with this Rhône variety provides proof. She works with three of the region’s top sites for Syrah — Sawtooth, Skyline and Williamson — and co-ferments with Viognier (5%). There’s also 10 percent of the lot that’s built with foot-pressed on the stems. Next, it spent 16 months in 30% new barrels to create smoky and toasty notes with blueberry and vanilla, a creamy blend of flavors that makes for a great texture and pleasing approach. Suggested pairings include espresso-rubbed kobe beef or pork chops with fruit chutney or hoisin.
Production: 670 cases
Laissez Faire 2015 Red Table Wine, Idaho, $16
Ste. Michelle-trained Melanie Krause is the winemaking talent behind Cinder Wines near Boise, but she and her husband Joe Schnerr developed this second label to become a Tuesday night wine in an Old World-style, not only for consumers but also themselves. So they make this in a fruit-forward, bright style each year. This release leads with Sangiovese (60%) and supported by Mourvèdre (30%) and Tempranillo. The 2015 vintage was not particularly abundant in the Snake River Valley, so she supplemented her Idaho lots by reaching into Airfield Estates in the Yakima Valley and the Gordon family’s Kamiak Vineyard overlooking the Snake River near Pasco, Wash. Krause used whole-berry fermentation and 100% neutral oak barrels to build aromas of orange zest, red plum, red currant and oregano. It’s downright yummy to drink as black currant and President plum flavors are met with soft tannins and boysenberry acidity, leading to a lick of strawberry fruit leather in the finish. Enjoy with tomato-based dishes and flatbreads. The 2014 vintage earned the title of best red wine at the 2015 Idaho Wine Competition, so this blend is no one-hit wonder. Fortunately, Cinder’s team can ship directly to consumers throughout the U.S.
Production: 1,000 cases