Idaho Syrah 

When most people contemplate the Northwest wine scene, Idaho usually comes in as something of an afterthought, if at all. So it may come as a surprise that the first wineries in the Northwest were located in the Gem State, and that wine grapes were planted here as far back as 1864. In fact, our wine industry was once nationally renowned, but all that came to an end with Prohibition. In the '70s, things started up again, rather slowly at first. The last few years have seen something of a renaissance for Idaho wines, and Syrah is helping to lead the way. In our most recent tasting, four Idaho Syrahs took top honors.

2002 Hells Canyon Deer Slayer Syrah, $19.50

The lovely aromas are rich and spicy with ripe cherry, raspberry and blueberry coming through, all backed by lightly toasty oak. A very well balanced wine, fruit forward in style with charming cherry and berry flavors and just the right kiss of oak. The label attracts a lot of attention as well, depicting a 1936 hunting scene with owner Steve Robertson's grandfather.

2003 Koenig Vineyards Syrah, $19.50

Big berry and creamy cherry aromas burst from the glass. A fruit bomb in the mouth with dark berry and velvety cherry flavors all balanced by soft acid and smooth tannins. Finishes long and silky. Greg Koenig also crafted the very fine 2003 Williamson Vineyards Syrah which I was able to preview last month, but it was not available for this tasting.

2003 Parma Ridge Syrah, $14.50

Meaty, earthy overtones weigh in alongside nice cherry and plum aromas. With its hint of tar on the nose, the Parma Ridge reminded me a little of a Cote Rotie. Big and meaty in the mouth with dark, brooding berry flavors, ripe tannins and a rich and lengthy finish. A great effort from one of Idaho's newer wineries.

2002 Sawtooth Syrah, $12.99

A bit subtle and closed in on the nose at first, but the aromas slowly open up in the glass revealing soft berry and plum with hints of spice. Much richer on the palate with dark berry fruit, nice mocha overtones and velvety tannins on the long finish. Winemaker Brad Pintler continues to offer top quality wines of great value, helping to put Idaho back on the map of Northwest wines.

This week's panel: David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Idaho Wine Merchant; Kathleen Neville, The Milky Way; Kevin Settles, Bardenay.

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