Idaho is, by far, the smallest wine region in the Northwest — and it is poised to continue to grow.
Thanks to a commitment to quality and explorations into what the best grape varieties could be, the Gem State wine industry is showing that it’s ready for prime time.
The sixth annual Idaho Wine Competition, conducted Sept. 22, showed just how well the region’s wines are doing. Eight wine professionals judged through 160 entries from 29 of the state’s 50 wineries.
Among the judges this year was Mike Dunne, longtime wine columnist for the Sacramento Bee and one of the most accomplished wine judges in California. This was Dunne’s first focused large tasting of Idaho wines, and he came away impressed.
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“I think that overall, this judging showed that beyond California, Oregon and Washington, there are really exciting things happening with growing grapes and making wines,” Dunne said. “I’ve been surprised by the diversity and the overall quality.”
Dunne was particularly impressed with the examples of Tempranillo he tried, noting the expressions of the red Spanish variety being grown in the Snake River Valley were superior to those he’s tried from California throughout the years.
Here are five of the top wines from the Idaho Wine Competition. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Hat Ranch Winery 2014 Estate Dry Moscato, Snake River Valley, $18: This stunning and remarkable white wine is the rare Muscat finished bone dry. This leads to aromas of dusty orchard and tropical fruit with hints of rosewater and nutmeg. On the palate, flavors of Asian pear and Texas pink grapefruit are backed by bright acidity and an elegant mouth feel. This is a beautiful wine that captivated the judges, who awarded it double gold and best of show at the 2015 Idaho Wine Competition. (12.8 percent alcohol)
Laissez Faire 2014 Red, Snake River Valley, $16: This second label for Cinder Wines in Garden City, Idaho, is a delicious and affordable red blend that leads with Sangiovese. Aromas of black currant, baked plum and raspberry give way to flavors of black pepper, blueberry and cocoa powder. It’s an easy-drinking red that is priced for weeknight enjoyment. It won best red wine at the 2015 Idaho Wine Competition. (14 percent alcohol)
Sawtooth Winery 2014 Classic Fly Series Grenache Rosé, Snake River Valley, $20: Winemaker Meredith Smith has done it again, crafting the top rosé at the Idaho Wine Competition for the third consecutive year. This beautiful wine shows off aromas of apple, lime zest, strawberry and spice, which lead to delicate, clean flavors of cherry, raspberry and a hint of cranberry. It’s all backed by a stream of bright acidity that leads to a persistent finish. (12.8 percent alcohol)
Bitner Vineyards 2014 Late Harvest Riesling, Snake River Valley, $19: Grape grower Ron Bitner and winemaker Greg Koenig have worked together for two decades, and the pair have yet another winner with this delicious after-dinner treat. Aromas of spice, honey and apricot invite further exploration, leading to luscious flavors of baked pear and Key Lime pie. This is not simply a rich, sweet wine. It also is loaded with bright acidity that lifts the flavors to a new level of enjoyment. This won best dessert wine at the 2015 Idaho Wine Competition. (10 percent alcohol)
Vizcaya Winery 2011 Tempranillo, Snake River Valley, $29: This newcomer to the Idaho wine scene arrives in a splashy way, winning a double gold and best of class at the 2015 Idaho Wine Competition. Tempranillo could well be one of the key red grapes in the Snake River Valley’s future, and this is a great example, thanks to aromas of pomegranate, cherry and raspberry, followed by flavors laden with bright red fruit and spice. It’s all backed by solid tannins and remarkably bright acidity. (12.7 percent alcohol)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning news and information company; www.greatnorthwestwine.com.