Thursday, March 10, 2011

WINE COUNTRY: IDAHO

When you think of wine from the Northwest, Idaho probably doesn't come to mind first.  The Idaho Grape Growers and Wine Producers Commission thinks it should.  They report that the first grape plantings in Idaho date back to 1864, before Washington and Oregon.  As is the case in many areas around the U.S., Idaho's wine industry was practically booming when Prohibition shut it down.  It would be 1970 before Idaho grapes were again planted.

The region that took off first in Idaho's wine rebirth was the Snake River Valley, in the southern part of the state.  That region became an official American Viticultural Area in 2007. The Snake River Valley's cold winters allow grape vines to go dormant, which is a benefit come growing season.  It doesn't rain all that much there, either, and that helps control rot.  The warm days and cool nights during summer are not unlike some of California's great growing regions.  Temperatures swinging as much as 40 degrees between day and night are the norm.  Idaho's well-drained volcanic soil is similar to that of Washington, with even higher elevations for vineyards - as high as 3,000 feet.  All this means you can expect concentrated flavors and naturally high acidity in Idaho wines.

Sawtooth Winery was founded as Pintler Cellars in 1987, changing names in 1998.  Their Sawtooth Vineyard is one of Idaho's warmer growing sites, and is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot, Roussanne and Pinot Gris.  The Skyline Vineyard encompasses slopes facing in all directions and the cooler parts are home to grapes that like a cooler climate, like Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.  Sawtooth Winery is a member of the Rhone Rangers.

Sawtooth CarmenereSawtooth Winery Reserve Carmenénère 2009

Sawtooth's '09 Carménère is labeled as a Snake River Valley wine, with grapes coming from both the Sawtooth and Skyline Vineyards.  The wine is 80% Carménère and 20% Malbec.  It sports an alcohol level of a moderate 13.5% abv.  108 cases were produced.

The Carménère is medium-dark violet in color, and the nose bursts with aromas: dark fruit, cherry and raspberry, a bit of tar and a pipe tobacco note.  The palate shows dark fruit, plums, anise and the whole bottom row of the spice rack.  The spiciness plays on forever on the finish.  There’s also something in the taste that reminds me of pine trees.

You'll find it benefits from a bit of decanting, but it’s not harsh upon opening.  The tannins are definitely present, but the wine is quite smooth going down.  Moderate acidity and very nice minerality make this a good choice for the dinner table.  It's a natural to pair with a skirt steak or pork chop grilled over a rosemary fire.

Sawtooth RieslingSawtooth Estate Winery Riesling 2009

Another Snake River Valley wine made from grapes grown in both the Sawtooth and Skyline Vineyards, the Sawtooth Riesling is abetted by 5% Muscat grapes.  With alcohol at only 12.3% abv and 2% residual sugar, this wine is very easy to drink.  Sweet orange on the nose and flavors of green apples and honeydew are simply beautiful, with a smooth mouthfeel and a refreshing acidity that concentrates on the finish.  I tried it with Castelvetrano olives and loved the match.  It should fit well with grain-based or pasta salads and almonds or pecans, too.


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