Last month, the federal government gave the official nod for the newest American Viticultural Area in the Northwest: Eagle Foothills.
Eagle Foothills is in southern Idaho, a 49,815-acre region north of Boise. It is within the vast Snake River Valley AVA (approved in 2007) and is Idaho’s first AVA that is entirely within the state’s borders (the Snake River Valley dips into Oregon to the west).
Eagle Foothills is home to almost 70 acres of vines, of which 46 are part of 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards, the only winery in the new AVA.
Gary and Martha Cunningham have built 3 Horse Ranch into one of the larger wineries in Idaho, producing more than 10,000 cases annually. Their wines are made by Greg Koenig at his facility in Caldwell, Idaho, overlooking the Snake River, and the wines are generally considered superb. Earlier this year, the 3 Horse Ranch 2012 Reserve Merlot was named best Merlot at the Seattle Wine & Food Experience competition.
It is a high-elevation region, reaching almost 3,000 feet above sea level. Eagle Foothills actually is the second name for the region. Originally, it was to be called Willow Creek Idaho, but the federal government rejected that name because the area didn’t have a history of using that name. Eagle Foothills probably will work out better, if only because the nearby community of Eagle is well known as a destination and is in a strong housing market.
While this is the Northwest’s newest AVA, Idaho is in line to receive approval for its third official region as early as next year. The Lewis-Clark Valley surrounding the communities of Lewiston and Clarkston is under review.
Wines from 3 Horse Ranch will begin carrying the new AVA on the label with the release of the 2014 Syrah, which will be released next year. Meanwhile, here are four wines from 3 Horse Ranch that use estate grapes from within the Eagle Foothills. The wines are available directly from the winery (208-863-6561), as well as at wine merchants throughout the Pacific Northwest.
3 Horse Ranch Vineyards 2014 Vivacious, Snake River Valley, $18: Rhône Valley varieties continue to thrive in Idaho’s Snake River Valley, and this blend of Viognier (76 percent) and Roussanne quickly became one of the best sellers for 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards. It’s clean and bright from start to finish with notes of Asian pear and Golden Delicious apple, backed by ample acidity and citrus pith. (13.4 percent alcohol)
3 Horse Ranch Vineyards 2012 Single Vineyard Syrah, Snake River Valley, $21: Rather than opulent and hedonistic, this Syrah shows balance from start to finish with a fruit-forward profile of Marionberry and elderberry. Juicy acidity easily pushes through the tannins and leads to the finish of blueberry cobbler. (14.3 percent alcohol)
3 Horse Ranch Vineyards 2012 Syrah-Mourvèdre, Snake River Valley, $26: The Cunninghams produce a straight Mourvèdre from their estate, but here they use it to create a Rhône-style blend based on Syrah (83 percent). Its aromatic profile includes lively notes of red currant, blackberry and chokecherry with cocoa powder, bay leaf and alder smoke. Spicy flavors offer up tones of black plum, Craisins and dusty rose hips, tied together within a structure of polished tannins and red currant acidity. (14.8 percent alcohol)
3 Horse Ranch Vineyards 2012 Reserve Merlot, Snake River Valley $21: This award-winning latest release of Merlot is attractive and approachable from start to finish with tones of black cherry, dark plum, vanilla, toasted almond and black pepper. Pomegranate acidity wins out over the mild tannin structure, making for a luscious midpalate and pleasurable finish. (13.9 percent alcohol)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company; www.greatnorthwestwine.com