It has taken me 40 years to get around to finally paying a visit to Ste. Chapelle Winery, and I am here to say you shouldn’t tarry quite that long before heading out to Sunny Slope for a sip or two paired with entertainment and a wonderful view that enhances a range of sparkling, white, red and ice wines that will never, ah, dessert you.
I have a good and a lame excuse for my action and inaction. The good: I was not living this close to the stately Tasting Room On The Hill until a few years ago. The lame: Like a lot of people, I convicted Ste. Chapelle of mediocrity based solely on their lower-shelf status in retail stores, hearsay, and because I sometimes cringe when I witness people swirling some of their cloying, sweet product in a plastic cup with ice cubes.
Call me a dry wine snob, but don’t call me to rant — because I’ve just admitted it. You can also call me impressed — with the wisdom of Ste. Chapelle’s Chateau Series price point and with its dual ability to produce table and top shelf reserve wines.
If I have an overall criticism of Idaho wines, it is that there are not enough of them priced at $10-$15 to compete with some excellent juice coming out of California, Oregon and Washington. Not so at Ste. Chapelle, which presently has 15 wines available at that price point and a venture in a growler-style refillable “Villager” container (whites and reds) for just a few dollars more.
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Ste. Chapelle gets it and serves up a very serviceable (though occasionally over-oaky for my taste) line with its Chateau Series Chardonnay, an excellent Sauvignon Blanc, and some real value Cabernet Sauvignon and red blends. There is a reason it bottles and sells more than 150,000 cases per year — by far the largest producer in Idaho.
But what really got to me (and, later, my pocketbook) were some reserve wines in the $25-$30 range that can compete with anyone, anywhere: a light and breezy Grenache; a big, bold and beautifully expressive Petit Verdot; and yes, a dessert ice wine made from Riesling grapes that will pair with and sweep any sweet, cold or fruity confection off of its feet.
The refreshing experience of sipping Ste. Chapelle’s Panoramic Ice Wine — a happy byproduct of that November cold snap in 2014 — may be enough to cure me of my aversion to all things ice and wine. As Ste. Chapelle enters its 41st year of winemaking, I should be cured any day. See the details of the Ste. Chapelle 40th anniversary celebration Sept. 13.
On my tasting tour this past weekend, I also visited Sawtooth Winery. Like Ste. Chapelle, it’s a member of the Precept Wine family. Familiar with Sawtooth’s lineup in grocery stores and wine shops, I wanted to taste some things only available at the winery — namely the Fly and Trout series.
I was not disappointed. Most memorable were the 2012 Trout Trilogy Petite Sirah and a 2012 Syrah, which was honored by being poured at Vinexpo in France this summer. Though I enjoyed and recommend both, it was a 2013 Classic Fly Tempranillo and a 2013 Trout Trilogy Carmenere that I invited to come home with me. The Tempranillo is just vibrant with notes of spice and jam and a long, sophisticated finish. The Carmenere grabbed me with a white pepper approach and a cinnamon-laced joy ride.