A recent trip up to Idaho for the inaugural Sun Valley Food & Wine Festival (see Dining, p. 35) afforded me the opportunity to sample a bevy of wines from Idaho, not to mention quite a bit of potato vodka. Now that I’ve recovered, a few highlights:
I was surprised to learn that Idaho is home to more than 30 wineries, from Kuna, Post Falls and Caldwell, to Hagerman, Moscow and Twin Falls. And while I don’t think folks from Napa, Sonoma or the Willamette Valley have too much to fear, there are some decent wines being produced in Idaho (along with some dreadful ones, which I’ll skip).
Just as Utah’s Parallel Winery Cabernet Sauvignon is made from California grapes, likewise many Idaho wineries use imported grapes for their “Idaho” wines. Among them is Frenchman’s Gulch, a small family-owned winery based in Ketchum, which gets its grapes from eastern Washington. Frankly, I was floored by these wines at a dinner hosted by Ketchum Grill’s Scott Mason and Steve McCarthy, owner and operator of Frenchman’s Gulch Winery. The pony-tailed, soft-spoken McCarthy started his winery in a small warehouse in Ketchum’s industrial district in 2000. It’s a small operation making around 900 cases per year total of Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and a house blend called Ketchum Couvee, most of which sell for $25 or so.
Frenchman’s Gulch wines are truly boutique in style: Family and friends crush, hand-punch and basket press their grapes with a minimal amount of mechanization, just the way McCarthy wants it. The wine is barrel aged, unfiltered and bottled by hand. Frenchman’s Gulch Chardonnay and Merlot, in particular, where the best Idaho wines I tasted'real knockouts. Try to track some down if you can.
One of the staples around my house'it never lasts long'is wine from Ste. Chapelle, an Idaho winery in southwestern Idaho. I was initially attracted to Ste. Chapelle by price; you can often find Dry Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Dry GewÃ¼rztraminer here locally on sale for as little as $3.95, which is a very good deal. Not one to set his goals too low, Ste. Chapelle winemaker Chuck Devlin says, “I am not interested in making great Idaho wine or even great Northwest wine. I want Ste. Chapelle to be recognized for making great wines, period.”
Other Idaho wines available here include those from Sawtooth Winery and Snake River Winery. I much prefer Snake Creek, owned by Scott and Susan DeSeelhorst, who also own Solitude Mountain Resort. Their Snake River Meritage ($22.75) is well worth taking for a spin.
DRinc. (Distilled Resources, Inc.) makes vodka in Idaho. Lots of vodka. But you won’t find their name on vodka bottles since the distillery custom-produces potato vodka for clients with brand names like Blue Ice, Silver Creek, Zygo, Zodiac, Hendrix Electric (yup, there’s a Jimi Hendrix vodka), Koenig and my favorite, Square One organic rye vodka. It makes for a terrific tater shot. Do yourself a favor: Find a bar that serves Square One vodka and never leave it.
Sips: Four Brewing (“Four Plusâ€), an arm of Salt Lake’s Uinta Brewing Co. (UintaBrewing.com), recently released Wildfire, a certified organic beer brewed with 100 percent organic malts and Simcoe and Amarillo hops. According to Uinta’s Steve Kuftinec, the hops impart a slight “mango essence” to the aroma and taste of Wildfire, which is an Extra Pale Ale style brew. Wildfire is available in bottles at retail outlets and in select bars and restaurants on draft.