Road Trip: Idaho

By John ~ June 20th, 2008.

As we continued our cross-country road trip, we visited three Idaho wineries, one in Glenns Ferry and two in Caldwell, Idaho. They all produce their wines exclusively with Idaho grapes, and we found some pretty good wines at each stop. Our first stop was at Carmela Vineyards, in business since 1988. They produce about 10,000 cases a year, almost all sold in Idaho although they will ship out-of-state. Our favorite wine at Carmela was their 2004 Carmela Reserve Merlot.

Our next stop was at Ste. Chapelle Winery, Idaho’s oldest and largest winery, a part of the mammoth Constellation Group when we visited but was purchased last week by Ascentia Wine Estates. Out of the five wines we tasted at Ste. Chapelle, our favorites were the 2004 Ste. Chapelle Winemaker Syrah and the 2004 Ste. Chapelle Ice Wine Sauvignon Blanc.

Our third stop was at Williamson Vineyards, where a fourth generation Williamson, Beverly, was our knowledgeable tasting room hostess. The Williamsons have been in the fruit growing business for generations and remain a large producer today but have only been growing grapes, mainly as a diversification measure, since the 1990’s. They are contract growers for some of Idaho’s best known wineries as well as produce an increasing amount of grapes for their own winery operation. We also had the opportunity to meet and visit with Beverly’s father, Roger, who is the winemaker for Williamson Vineyards. While we would not hesitate to recommend any of the five wines we tasted at Williamson, our favorites were the 2005 Williamson Syrah and the NV Williamson Doce Dessert Wine (Ruby style Port). I believe that Williamson is an up-and-coming winery that merits watching. I’d like to come back in five years and see the progress that they have made.

Note: A few days after these visits, we also visited another Idaho winery, Camas Prairie Winery in Moscow, Idaho, but we did not taste any wines. When we entered the tasting room, the owner was serving some other folks so we didn’t expect instantaneous service. But when he finished their tasting, he said he was going to pass them off to the checkout clerks, implying that he would then serve us. However, instead he went over to the checkout with them and continued to visit, totally ignoring us. But the straw that broke the camel’s back for us was when another employee came in, and instead of spelling him at the checkout desk or serving us, she waited on another customer who had come in after us. When that happened, we left. There are too many other wineries with good wine and good service to put up with that. I could not recommend Camas Prairie Winery to anyone.

Here’s a breakdown of the Idaho wines that we tasted. Under each Quality heading, the wine name will be listed along with price and QPR rating. Wines in bold type received a QPR rating of 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5).

Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
2004 Carmela Reserve Merlot, $25, QPR: 5
2004 Ste. Chapelle Winemaker Syrah, $11, QPR: 5
2004 Ste. Chapelle Ice Wine Sauvignon Blanc, $20, QPR: 5
2005 Williamson Syrah, $18, QPR: 5
NV Williamson Doce Dessert Wine (Ruby style Port), $25, QPR: 5

Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
2004 Williamson Cabernet Sauvignon, $25, QPR: 5
2006 Williamson Late Harvest Viognier, $22, QPR: 5

2004 Carmela Red Meritage, $17, QPR: 4
2006 Williamson Viognier, $15, QPR: 3

Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
NV Carmela Cabernet Merlot, $10, QPR: 5
2005 Ste. Chapelle Winemaker Cabernet Sauvignon, $11, QPR: 5

2001-02 Carmela Merlot, $17, QPR: 4
2000 Carmela Cabernet Franc, $17, QPR: 4

Quality: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
2003 Carmela Cabernet Sauvignon, $17, QPR: NR
2006 Ste. Chapelle Winemaker Merlot, $11, QPR: NR

Quality: 2 stars (out of 5)
2003 Carmela Pinot Noir, $17, QPR: NR
2006 Carmela Semillon, $13, QPR: NR
2006 Ste. Chapelle Sauvignon Blanc, $9, QPR: NR

Have you ever had Idaho wine? If so, how did you like it? What was your favorite?

Filed under: American Wine, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Dessert Wine, Five-Bangs For Your Buck Wines, Idaho Wine, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Port, Red Wine, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Shiraz/Syrah, Viognier, White Wine, Wine Travel, Wines NOT To Buy (1 & 2 Star), Wines Under $10, Wines Under $15, Wines Under $20, Wines Under $25

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