When you are trying to find a great spot for your next gal pal wine weekend, Boise is ready to roll out the red-stained carpet. I know what you’re thinking…wineries in Idaho??? Yup! In 2002 Idaho had just 11 wineries but today it is home to 50 wineries, busily producing some world-class Merlot, Syrah, Chards, Cabs, Riesling and Viognier.
I recently spent a tasting day there with a cadre of food and wine journalists from IFWTWA. We made five stops along the Snake River AVA, where the climate, soil, and weather conditions are deemed perfect for growing grapes. Generally speaking, we were blown away by the results.
We started our bus tour by picking up Kathy Jean Johnson, founder of Winery Seekers, the first winery tour company in Idaho. With her pleasant nature, depth of knowledge, close relationship with the winemakers and perhaps most importantly, her sense of direction (since we would never have found the tasting rooms on our own) she was a most welcome addition to our group.
Some standout stops were:
Koenig Winery and Distillery is not only the first Idaho winery to break 90 in Wine Spectator (the 2010 Ice Wine and Syrah both scored 91 points, and the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah Blend scored 90 points) but winemaker Greg Koenig also breaks 9 in the good looks department.
We never got to meet his brother, Andy, the award-winning master distiller or taste his classic eau-de-vie fruit brandies and potato vodka, but we did marvel at the beauty of his hand-hammered copper pot stills from Germany.
Bitner Vineyards is owned by professional entomologist (bee-guru) Dr. Ron Bitner and his wife, Mary. Bitner Vineyards consists of 15 acres of premium vinifera wine grapes, which they sell to many of the Idaho wineries, such as Koenig. To complete the circle, Greg Koenig is the winemaker for the Bitner Vineyard’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and Reserve Chardonnay.
While we were sipping these fine wines on the porch, Ron shared some exciting news with us. It will soon be possible to enjoy French Black Truffles with a glass of their Chard, since he has planted 200 hazelnut and white oak trees infused with French black truffle spores in hopes of turning this valley into the next big culinary destination.
Sawtooth Winery, one of the largest wineries in Idaho, has not only been receiving rave reviews for their 2011 Riesling but their Sawtooth's Skyline Red is always a solid "Best Buy”. Last week, at the 4th annual Idaho Wine Competition, they scored Best Rosé for their 2012 Classic Fly Series Cinsault Rosé. The gorgeous grounds insure that the place is booked far out for weddings and special events. We got to enjoy both the marvelous views and wines during a delish catered dinner they graciously served our group.
For a totally different experience, you can kill 3 wine birds with one stone if you visit Boise’s 44th Street Wineries. Three passionate winemakers share this hipster urban space, which is also home to House of Wine, where owner Kat House (for real- that’s her name) offers wine classes for novices as well as professionals. All three boutique wineries are turning out some amazing wines with great potential.
Telaya started with their proprietory red wine blend Turas –Irish for “journey” and owners, Carrie and Earl Sullivan continue to add more big jammy reds to the lineup.
Leslie Preston, proprietor and winemaker of Coiled Wines, has a stellar background with stints at Clos du Bois, in Sonoma CA, and Saintsbury in Carneros CA, before landing her dream job at Napa’s Stags’ Leap Winery. Her decision to give it all up to move her family back home to Boise looks like it was a smart one since Preston’s 2012 Dry Riesling received a unanimous double gold medal from the judges at the 2013 Idaho Wine Competition, also earning the competition’s best white wine honor.
Cinder Wines owners, Melanie Krause & Joe Schnerr are also thrilled to be back in the Boise area. Winemaker Krause honed her craft at Washington’s renowned Chateau Ste. Michelle. She believed that the layers of volcanic remnants found under the vineyards in Idaho offered just the terroir she wanted, and returned to the area to open Cinder. Not only has she scored top awards in both the red and white categories, but they also have a secret weapon: salesgirl Charli Valentina Schnerr, their precocious daughter, who already is a big fan of their Viognier.
* Many of the wineries offer complimentary tastings, while others charge a minimal fee that will be applied toward the purchase of a bottle of wine. Please check their websites for details.
For help in planning your itinerary the Visit Idaho tourism website is chock full of useful info.