Vino Voyages 

Since the first time some ancient person's grape juice accidently fermented and he or she said, "What the hell," and drank it anyway, the world has had a love affair with wine.

From cloistered monks who didn't let vows of poverty stop them from having a good time thanks to their proclivity for making their own vino, to the grand old tradition of wine in a box, wine has become integrated in cultures around the world.

Most adults enjoy partaking of a glass or two on occasion, but few of us know more than the most fundamental differences between a cabernet and a zinfandel and a riesling and a chardonnay (hint, the first two are red, the second are white).

In fact, when we see people in restaurants slowly swirling their glasses, gazing thoughtfully at the residue before they take a tiny sip, swishing the contents around in their mouths (again, looking thoughtfully), most of us are a little perplexed. They are either A) extremely knowledgeable about wine, or B) full of it and just trying to act like they know what's going on to impress the rest of us.

When wine connoisseurs go tossing around words like, "leather," "tobacco" and "soil" to describe the taste of a given vintage, many of us stare in horror. Does anyone truly want to taste that combination in anything they put in their mouths?

But rather than just pretending to know what's going on when your wine-loving friends start talking about sulfates and tannins, there is hope out there for the wine-challenged. In fact, it's something that's not only educational, but also a great time for anyone with any level of appreciation for wine.

Idaho's wine industry is quickly expanding and vineyards are popping up across the southern portion of the state, including some in the Treasure Valley. Sure, they're great for local economies, but even better, most offer wine tastings and tours.

For those who have yet to experience the joys of a wine tasting, it breaks down to this: Visitors pay a nominal fee at wineries for a chance to sample a selection of the offerings. They are guided along this voyage by knowledgeable sales people who share the history and nuances of each wine. Some vineyards offer tours, while others combine the experience with food. Many offer discounts on bottles purchased while visiting.

Ste. Chapelle is the granddaddy of Southwest Idaho wineries, drawing visitors to the rolling hills of the French-chateau-inspired winery since 1976. Wine tastings are offered daily in the winery's tasting room, and for $5, visitors can sample five of the vineyard's 19 different wines and take home a souvenir glass.

Tours are also available, but must be scheduled in advance; for more information, call 208-453-7843, or check out the Web site at stechapelle.com for tasting room hours.

Ste. Chapelle is hosting a Fall Open House Friday and Saturday, Nov. 28-29, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. During the event, participants won't just taste wine, but taste the wines paired with food. Anyone who attends the event will receive 30 percent off cases of wine (which can be mixed) and 20 percent off all non-wine merchandise.

For those who want to check out more than one area winery, Caldwell's Music of the Vine is hosting its fifth annual holiday bus tour of Canyon County wineries on Sunday, Nov. 23, from noon to 6 p.m.

The cost is $42 per person and includes a complimentary wine glass and transportation. The tastings will begin at Music of the Vine with a sampling of wines by Parma Ridge Winery and Fraser Wineries, then move on to on-site tastings at Hells Canyon Winery, Bitner Vineyards and Snake River Vineyards. All stops will include a tour, and Music of the Vine will provide a progressive lunch.

Reservations are required for this one, so call 208-454-1228 or e-mail imin@musicofthevine.com.

However you decide to take your wine-tasting tour, bring a designated driver and remember: An earthy taste can be a good thing in wine, and the buckets on the counter are for spit-out wine, not for refills.

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