The Idaho wine industry is fun to watch right now.
Gem State winemakers produced two best-of-class awards and 11 gold medals at this spring’s international Cascadia Wine Competition in Hood River, Ore.
The winemaking industry in Idaho dates back more than a century, and the modern industry goes back to 1976. Today, 51 wineries are spread up and down the state, using more than 1,300 acres of grapes.
While the modern Idaho wine industry began in 1976 with the launch of Ste. Chapelle, the industry was propelled forward in 2007, when the federal government approved the Snake River Valley as the state’s first American Viticultural Area. The industry further defined and refined itself with two more AVAs in the past two years: the Eagle Foothills and the Lewis-Clark Valley.
Talented winemakers have returned home, and there’s a growing maturity in the industry.
Here are a few of Idaho’s delicious wines to get you started on your journey of discovery. Ask for them at your favorite wine shop or contact the wineries directly.
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. (12.5 percent alcohol)
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. (13.9 percent alcohol)
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 percent). There’s also 10 percent of the lot that’s built with foot-pressed on the stems. Next, it spent 16 months in 30 percent 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. (14.1 percent alcohol)
Fujishin Family Cellars 2014 Tempranillo, Snake River Valley, $25: This early-ripening red grape is well suited for Idaho’s high-elevation Snake River Valley, and it’s a natural draw for the Treasure Valley’s large Basque community. “Hot Brand” recipient Martin Fujishin bottles his second vintage with temp, and it carries a theme of sweet blackberry and plums with toast. The pleasing tannin structure, baking spices and fruit-forward style make this ideal with cured meats, dishes featuring tomato sauce and Mexican fare. (14.2 percent alcohol)
Bitner Vineyards 2012 Reserve Petit Verdot Merlot, Snake River Valley, $32: Longtime Idaho grower Ron Bitner works with Sunnyslope winemaker Greg Koenig to craft this delicious Bordeaux-style red blend that leads with petit verdot and backed by merlot (40 percent) from the vines planted along Plum Road. Bold, dark, dense aromas of molasses, plum and black cherry are backed by flavors of red fruit, tobacco and a hint of oak. Ample acidity and well-managed tannins complete the structure that was deemed worthy of a gold medal at the 2016 Idaho Wine Competition. (14 percent alcohol)
Colter’s Creek Winery 2014 Koos•Koos•Kia Red, Lewis-Clark Valley, $24: Work in their maturing Lewis-Clark Valley vineyard by Mike Pearson and in the cellar by his wife, Melissa Sanborn, allowed them to increase production by 50 percent of their flagship wine that serves as a tribute to Lewis & Clark’s reference of the Clearwater River. This classic Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot carries aromas of sweet cherries, Hostess berry pie, sweet cherries and ginger spice, backed by a delicious structure of black currant and blueberry. Well-managed tannins allow for a finish of cherry juice and warm toffee. Their wines are available in Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado and Montana. (14 percent alcohol)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company; www.greatnorthwestwine.com