I'm sitting on my back patio, drinking a glass of wine and looking forward to the three-day Memorial Day weekend. Although there is a serious purpose underlying the creation of Memorial Day, for many (if not most) of us, the holiday serves as the unofficial start of summer, an opportunity to get outside, entertain friends, perhaps travel. For me, it also means an opportunity to sit outside and enjoy a glass or two of my favorite beverage, wine.
As I am sipping a decent red wine, I am reminded of a recent comment by a co-worker, someone who works in the wine industry and probably should know better, that Idaho does not and cannot produce quality red wines. I beg to differ.
Idaho is certainly best known for Ste. Chapelle Winery which, quite frankly, does not make very good red wines, although the Rieslings and sweet wines are very tasty. But while Ste. Chapelle gets the eyeballs looking at Idaho's wine industry, they are by no means the only winery in town as it were.
At last count, there were some 50 wineries in Idaho, and two of the best three red wines I've ever tasted came from two of those Idaho wineries. The third was an Oregon Pinot Noir. Granted, I am not an oenophile (though I knew the word is related to wine, so there), but I do enjoy wine, and I think I have a sense of what tastes good. Given that I cannot afford to put in a wine cellar or buy the wines to stock it, tasting good is what I shoot for, and if the wine surpasses that, so much the better.
For a very nice every day Idaho red, I gravitate toward Sawtooth Red, a nice full-fruit blend from Idaho's second-largest winery. At $9-$10 a bottle, it is affordable and very tasty. However, I was talking about Idaho wines that fall into the category of a cut above, if not great wines.
Probably the best Idaho wine I have ever tasted and perhaps best I have ever tasted was the first bottling of Syrah from Three Horse Ranch. The winery used charred French cognac oak barrels, and the wine captured some of that smoky essence in the bottle. At roughly $19 a bottle at the time a few years ago, it certainly would not be an everyday wine, but I certainly wish I had purchased several bottles at the time.
The other Idaho wine that ranks as one of the three best wines I've ever had is also the best wine I've ever purchased. (I enjoyed the Three Horse Ranch Syrah at an in-store tasting.) It is a 2007 Syrah ($18) from Williamson Vineyards. The Williamson family has made its living for more than a century as fruit growers but several years ago began making wines, and some nice wines they have.
The Sangiovese is another nice red from the Williamsons. They also make an interesting rose', the 2011 Blossom ($12), which is made from the Sangiovese grape. It has nice floral notes with what struck me as an aroma of fresh-cut grass.
Another thing about the Williamsons, they grow some of their own grapes, which some wineries in Idaho do not. They also sell grapes to other Idaho wineries, such as Koenig Winery & Distillery, which gets an honorable mention for its Viognier, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Sauvignon. I liked the latter enough to pick up a bottle of their 2009 Cabernet ($20) to drink on my 20th wedding anniversary, although the Williamson Syrah may end up being the wine of choice on that day.
Wine does not have to be expensive to be good, at least to be good to you, which is really what counts. My wife is fond of quoting the sentiment "drink what you like, if you like it it's good." I agree with that but will add one thing: don't be afraid to try something new. You might find a new favorite. I tried something new and ended up with a new respect and appreciation for Idaho wines. Enjoy!