With the yuletide season just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about what food and wines to serve during the holidays.
If you’re going the prime rib route, big reds with bold flavors are definitely the way to go. White wines and light reds pair well with turkey, pork and salmon. As you can see, choices abound this time of year.
Here are some tasting notes and food recommendations for several recently released wines from Idaho’s Snake River Valley that should keep everyone happy at the dinner table — even that wine-snob cousin.
Belly-warming red wines
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Spanish grape varietals are starting to pop up in Idaho’s wine country, and this is evidenced by the delightful tempranillo produced by Fujishin Family Cellars in Sunnyslope. Owner and winemaker Martin Fujishin recently introduced a 2015 Tempranillo ($24.95) that is soft and juicy like ripe fruit. More and more Idaho wineries are using this grape varietal that has Basque roots.
“Tempranillo is a perfect fit for the area,” Fujishin said.
“With our high-elevation and warm days and cool nights, it’s similar to the Basque country of Spain.”
Tempranillo is known for its lighter body and low tannins, making for luscious wine that boasts a velvety mouth feel. That’s definitely the case with Fujishin’s version. On the nose, the fruit-forward wine generates aromas of summer berries, currant and freshly picked thyme, with lingering hints of leather and tobacco. Once in the mouth, you will notice Bing cherry and blackberry notes, followed by a suggestion of oak.
Considering this wine is lighter than most reds, it pairs well with grilled salmon, roast pork loin, duck confit and smoked cheeses.
Pick up a bottle or two at the winery’s tasting room, 15593 Sunnyslope Road (Highway 55), which is open noon to 6 p.m. daily.
Over at Koenig Vineyards, also in the Sunnyslope area of Caldwell, it’s cabernet sauvignon time. Owner and winemaker Greg Koenig just released a 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon ($22) that’s big, complex and full of earthy flavors. Up front it exhibits an aromatic nose, kind of like getting punched in the snout with a fistful of plums and raspberries, proceeded by a lingering waft of cigar and oak barrel. The pronounced tannins are evident by the long legs left on the side of the glass, and after another swirl and a sniff, expect to taste subtle flavors of ripe cherries, blue-veined cheese and that sensation left in your mouth after crawling through ivy when you were a kid.
At the dinner table, the wine works well with prime rib, rosemary-rubbed roast leg of lamb, venison and other game meats, in addition to dark chocolate in any form.
The winery’s tasting room, at 21452 Hoskins Road, is open noon to 5 p.m. daily.
Head to nearby Hells Canyon Winery, at the corner of Chicken Dinner and Symms roads, for a taste of the newly released Lava/100 Black ($58), a 2014 reserve blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. This limited-production wine is a new label for the estate winery — owned and operated by winemaker Steve Robertson and his family — and there’s even a new tasting room to go with it.
“It’s modeled on a classic French-style wine,” said Hadley Robertson, co-owner of Hells Canyon Winery and Zhoo Zhoo Wine.
“We bottled the wine recently but it’s drinkable now. And it will age well in the bottle, so it’s perfect for the cellar.”
On the nose, you could say it boasts the heady spiciness of a freshly baked chocolate-chile soufflé. As it opens up and begins to breathe, that’s when a bouquet of vanilla bean, Bing cherry and leather comes into play. The select barrels the wine gets aged in for two years put forth an underlying current of oak, bolstered by flavors reminiscent of blackberry jam, cayenne pepper, fig and ripe apricot.
The medium-bodied wine is incredibly versatile at the dinner table, pairing well with everything from Asian-style duck to grilled ribeye steaks to wild mushroom risotto.
Hells Canyon Winery’s tasting room, at 18835 Symms Road, is open noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. (Heads up: the winery will be closed for a private event on Sunday, Nov. 26.)
White wines that surprise
Most people think sickly sweet when it comes to gewürztraminer. That’s surely the case with most German renditions. But Fujishin Family Cellars takes gewürztraminer in an entirely different direction. The winery just introduced its limited-production 2016 Dry Gewürztraminer ($16.95), a bone-dry wine made with grapes grown in the wind-swept Skyline Vineyard in Nampa.
Keep in mind, this German grape varietal typically thrives in cooler climes. So how on earth could it have any success in a high-desert environment?
“It’s definitely a little bit warm here for gewürztraminer, but we pick the grapes early so it gets that crisp mouth feel,” Martin Fujishin said.
On the nose, the wine conjures up floral and bright aromas such as green apple, lemon verbena and kiwi. Once it breathes a bit, the flavor profile starts to smack of ripe pineapple, piquant nasturtium flowers and that residual mineral taste you might get from licking rocks, followed by an impeccably dry finish.
“This dry style works with literally every kind of food, and it’s especially good with turkey and holiday side dishes,” Fujishin said.
Buttery chardonnay fans will like Hells Canyon Winery’s 2016 Lava/100 Gold ($58), the pale counterpart to the aforementioned Lava/100 Black. The barrel-fermented chardonnay — made from old-vine grapes grown in the winery’s 39-acre vineyard — might surprise the palates of those who typically drink chardonnays that are on the dry side. Instead, it’s all about honeysuckle and citrusy notes on the nose. It exhibits relatively high acidity up front, and the characteristics of butterscotch pudding balances everything out in the end with an off-dry finish.
Hadley Robertson recommends the wine with French food, including rich, buttery dishes, baked scallops, sausage cassoulet and Brie with fresh fruit.