Bizarrely enough, given my recent post about the new Snake River AVA, it turns out that my colleague, Emily Kaiser, happened to have a couple of cases of Idaho wines sitting here in her office, waiting to be tasted (in anticipation of an upcoming trip to research Idaho's food culture, or somesuch). The god of wine works in mysterious ways, I say.
We opened them up this morning and tasted through them. While I can't say that Idaho is the new Napa Valley, I will say that if someone asked me to place bets on Idaho's wine future, I'd put my money on Syrah. Most of the Bordeaux varieties we tasted were odd, and the lone Chardonnay was scary (yet more proof that there should be an international moratorium on Chardonnay planting—enough with the oceans of wretched Chardonnay, already!). But I thought that the 2004 Koenig Vineyard Cuvée Amelia Syrah ($50), though whacked with an overabundance of charry oak, had good peppery Syrah fruit—a dark, smoked blackberry character. The 2003 Hells Canyon Idaho Reserve Syrah ($50) had a harsh oaky note as well, but also really charming berry notes tucked away underneath. But fifty bucks each? For fifty bucks you can run out and buy a bottle of Clusel-Roch Côte Rôtie, which, I'm sad to say, would just plain step on either one of these wines.
Anyway, in my opinion—and since this is a blog, there ain't nothing but my opinion going on around here—at least some of the vineyards in Idaho are growing quite good Syrah, unsurprisingly reminiscent of some of the better eastern Washington Syrahs. The winemaking isn't up to the quality of the grapes, but that's less of a problem than the reverse. Winemaking you can learn; you can't teach a vineyard how to be anything other than what it is.
And I will give kudos to Hell's Canyon for being the only winery I can think of willing to put a black and white photo of dead deer flopped across the hood of a 1930's automobile on one of its wine labels: the appropriately named Deer Slayer Syrah. I'd like to say it's a really meaty red, but...