Jul 22, 2017

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Best Case Scenario: 45th Parallel North – Idaho Wine Country

Best Case Scenario is exactly what it appears to be: it’s a case (twelve bottles of wine) of some of the finest wines from a particular region, vintage or varietal.  Each wine was hand-selected to represent the quintessential characteristics, flavors and textures of its origin – creating a Best “Case” Scenario.

A case of Best Case Scenario wines

The theme of the first Best Case Scenario series that I featured was, “From Blockbuster to Beauty: The Evolving Style of Oregon Pinot Noir.”  Some of the spectacular wines I was able to experience included Brooks Winery Janus Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2010, Johan Vineyards 2009 Estate Pinot Noir and Brandborg Winery Bench Lands Pinot Noir 2009.  This was written during a time of an exciting shift in the wine industry, where appreciation of elegant, bright, balanced and pretty wines (with alcohol percentages lower than 14%) were being highly regarded globally – Oregon’s delicate, elegant Pinot Noirs were in the spotlight of delight.

Brooks Janus 2010 Pinot Noir was one of many Pinots that really blew me away from my first shipment of Best Case Scenario wines.

A year later, I received a box of Best Case Scenario named,Oregon Riesling – Our Best Kept Secret,” and some of the finest Oregon Rieslings I’ve ever experienced were in that box.  The next year some more Pinot Noirs, this time with a slightly different theme: brands built on dependable quality offered at exceptional value.  I decided to feature one Pinot Noir a day for 12 days leading up to Christmas – calling the series, 12 Days of Oregon Pinot Noir: Affordable, Accessible, Ambrosial.”  Some of the affordable Pinot Noirs included were truly impressive, “Adelsheim, A to Z Wineworks and Anne Amie ( to name just a few) that had suggested retail prices far below what Pinot enthusiasts would expect.

A to Z was one of the first Pinots I tried from the Best Case Scenario: 12 Days of Pinot Noir

With a deep-seeded dedication and zeal for the terroir and fruit of Oregon, from its fascinating geological history and hundreds of distinctive micro-climates that influence the vines from one end of the state to the other, the first three Best Case Scenario pieces that I published clearly illustrated the uninhibited enthusiasm I have for the wines of my home state of Oregon.

The 12 Idaho wines we will discover on this 45th Parallel North journey through wine.

The most recent Best Case Scenario delivery had a surprising twist that had me instantly intrigued when discovering that I had received a box of twelve wines from Idaho.  Idaho?  Yes.  Idaho.  The treasured 45th parallel north, the latitude shared by some of the world’s most prestigious wine regions such as Bordeaux, Côtes du Rhône, Piedmont and the Willamette Valley, runs right through Idaho.  Idaho is very much an integral part of the Pacific Northwest’s wine country, sharing both climate and geologic features with some of the Pacific Northwest’s highly prosperous viticultural areas.  Much like Oregon, it boasts a tumultuous geological history – resulting in rich, lush volcanic soils that are thriving with minerals; such as, calcium, iron and magnesium – vital components for healthy vines found in outstanding vineyard soils.  There’s a substantial amount of sun and water, and the vineyards are set at high elevations.  Ideal climate, warm growing seasons and winter dormancy, bestows the vineyards and wineries of Idaho with a myriad of natural advantages – making it a great place to grow wine.  Although Idaho’s mineral-rich soils resulted from a tumultuous geological history (much like Oregon), vineyards planted at high elevations in arid, well-draining volcanic soils receive up to 16 hours of sunlight per day, ripening the fruit just as fully as fruit is ripened in Washington’s world renowned Columbia Valley and Walla Walla Valley AVAs.  The center of Idaho’s wine production is located within the Snake River Valley, Idaho’s first AVA (shared with Oregon), created in 2007.  It’s the most extreme of any climate within the Northwest, with summer temperatures rising above 100 °F and winter temperatures that will go below zero °F for multiple days.  The warm climate, well-drained soils and direct access to water sources provides Idaho with key ingredients for producing fruit forward wines with solid structure.  According to the Idaho Wine Commission:

“When you average the temperatures throughout the year, it comes out to an interesting number:  54 °F – good for growing grape vines.  It is the winters that bring the average down, not the lack of growing season heat.  At the elevations where vineyards are typically planted, the Snake River Valley is considerably warm, with growing degree days between 2600 and 3300.  This means the region is well suited for warm-climate grapes, especially those native to Rhône and Bordeaux regions of France, and the Rioja region of Spain.  Syrah, Malbec, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are all doing particularly well in Idaho.  Likewise with white grapes – the short warm summers and cold nights are especially conducive to Riesling, Viognier, Pinot Gris, and even Chardonnay, are proving prosperous.” 

The first wine I’ll be featuring in the Idaho Best Case Scenario – 45th Parallel North series is Cinder’s Sauvignon Blanc.

Check out this interesting Fact Sheet about Idaho’s wine grapes and its first AVA of Snake River Valley (click image to enlarge):

Idaho’s Wine Grape Fact Sheet

Information on Idaho’s Snake River Valley AVA

As Snake River Valley AVA  continues to gain respect from critics around the world  for producing fruit forward, well balanced and solidly structured wines, a new AVA was formed in 2015, Eagle Foothills AVA.  Its newest AVA: Lewis-Clark Valley is generating excitement throughout the wine industry.  In a press release from April of 2016:

“The Lewis-Clark Valley AVA is the first and only wine region to be nestled in the unique mountainous backbone of the Bitterroot Mountains.  With steep river canyons and plateaus, it is home to the lowest elevation vineyards in the state at 950 feet.  To qualify as an AVA, a wine grape-growing region must be distinguishable by distinct geographic features such as climate, soil, elevation and physical features. Conditions and grapes grown within this geographic region can’t be replicated anywhere else. Unique elements of the Lewis-Clark Valley AVA include soil, climate and water.  The announcement of a new AVA will allow wineries to market grapes from the Lewis-Clark Valley, giving it a regional identity.”

Vineyard workers harvesting grapes in Idaho wine country | photo: Watershed Communications

An informative fact sheet on Idaho’s newest AVA of Lewis-Clark Valley AVA describes its geographic location; as well as, information on the soil, climate and water:

Fact sheet highlighting the features of the new Lewis-Clark Valley AVA

This Best Case Scenario is particularly special to me not only for the fact that I was given a great opportunity to discover and explore various Idaho wines through the twelve participating wineries (some from the newest AVA of Lewis-Clark Valley), but these wines are from a state that is very near and dear to me; Idaho holds a large part of my heart and family history.

Being an admitted wine geek and having a true passion for wine can be attributed to several experiences: one experience is told perfectly in this interview by Michele Francisco of winerabble.com: “An Interview with Julia Crowley, Founder of Wine Julia, a Wine Blog.” But long before my pivotal moment in the halls of an 11th century castle in the Loire Valley of France, savoring every sip of an incredible Cabernet Franc (click the article title to read the full article), I was introduced to wine by my late father, a super hero in my eyes to this day, Col. Maurice H. Leiser .

My Dad was so proud to be an American. He was a West Point graduate USMA class of 1954.

My dad was born and raised in Boise, Idaho.  Memories of summers spent at my Grandma Mimi’s house in Boise are some of the happiest and most vivid of my childhood.  100% French, my grandma was an avid enthusiast of French wine.  Many of my memories in Idaho involved wine – not because I was sipping French wine daily with my grandma as a child (although on special occasions, my father and grandmother would give my brother and I a glass filled with a few sips of wine), but both my grandma and my dad were passionate about the wine they would share together during meals.  My grandma wholeheartedly believed that food was meant to be served with wine.  She always said, in her soft-spoken broken English (highlighted by her mesmerizing French accent), “A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine. And in my house, the sun always shines.” 

Circa 1973/1974 – this explains a lot 😉

I lost my dad in 2009.  A massive heart attack took the strongest, bravest, kindest and most heroic man I have ever known –  in the blink of an eye.  There is not a single day that goes by that I don’t think about him, and every time I pull the cork from a bottle of wine, a memory with him flashes before my eyes and I can’t help but smile.  I have so many photos of my dad guiding me, keeping me safe and holding my hand – he was always holding my hand. 

Circa 1978 – My Dad would take me Quaysumah Diamond hunting in the desert of Al Batin, Saudi Arabia, where we lived for several years while he was stationed both in Al Batin and Riyadh. He was in charge of building King Khalid Military City – a fully functioning small city just for the King in the middle of the desert.

In this 12 part series, I’ll discover and share each of the 12 Idaho wines in its own feature article.  I’ll share a significantly relevant reason why Idaho wine is worth delving into, and because I will be opening a bottle of Idaho wine with each piece I write, I’ll reveal a special memory I had with my dad in our adventures through Idaho (and some from around the world).  Follow me along this adventure in wine!