Just about a year ago my friend Mike Dunne –– a respected wine judge and writer in Sacramento –– tipped me off about the delicious contents of some barrels at Koenig Vineyards in Caldwell.
Some 2014 Idaho Zinfandel grown in the Snake River Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) was aging in oak, and Dunne –– one of the judges for the 2015 Idaho Wine Competition last September –– had been so impressed with Idaho wines that he lingered in the valley after the competition to sample more.
During a visit to Koenig, he was treated to a barrel tasting that caused him to recommend that 2014 Zin to me and anybody else who reads his columns and blogs. “If I were you, I would sign up for a couple cases of that,” said Dunne, who has judged wines internationally.
That’s all I needed to hear. Dunne knows I am a bit of a Zin fanatic, having sampled so much of that peppery, spicy, bodacious, berry-forward nectar over the years in the Sierra Foothills, around Lodi and elsewhere in California.
So, when Greg Koenig dipped his wine thief into a barrel and siphoned a sample this week, I was in some kind of Zin state of mind. Its spice notes and big fruit burst reawakened those flavor profiles stored in the wine cellar of my mind and allowed me to look forward to yet another delicious option on the Idaho wine menu.
Of course, not everybody can pull off what Koenig manages out there in Sunnyslope. But what he does with wine grapes bodes well for our palates and the industry. For more than 20 years now –– dating back to the mid-1990s when he and brother Andy opened up Koenig Distillery & Winery –– Greg Koenig has been one of the the most steady and innovative vintners in the region.
If you’re drinking Idaho wine from that area, there’s a pretty good chance it was made by Koenig. He handles winemaking for his label, plus Williamson Vineyards, Bitner Vineyards and 3 Horse Ranch up in Eagle. Including his 4,500 cases, he’s responsible for making about 60 different wines that add up to around 20,000 cases.
Back in his barrel room, we sampled some Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and a couple of different ice wines. These are picked usually in November or December after they have frozen on the vines. Koenig’s Reserve Riesling ice wine, aged in oak, is a superb example of the style. He also surprises with a Cab ice wine which, minus a lot of the tannins (they don’t form as much in this process), the rose and cranberry notes take center stage.
When I asked Koenig what his “signature” wines were, it was like asking a parent to name a favorite child. But Koenig came up with his 2014 Viognier, 2013 Syrah (a blend from three different vineyards) and his just-about-to-be-releaased 2014 Fraser Cabernet. Koenig has leased the three acres of vines Bev and Bill Fraser plied to keep producing one of Idaho’s favorite Cabs.
All three of these wines and many more will be featured when Koenig opens the doors of his new tasting room at 21452 Hoskins Road in Caldwell later this month. To learn more about that check out the August 10 Treasure article on the Koenigs and the new tasting room.. During my visit, workers were still putting finishing touches on striking interior and outdoor features — both of which have proximity to wonderful views, the vineyards and production process.
Koenig’s improvements and those planned and underway elsewhere in Idaho, such as the expansion of Ste. Chapelle, will go a long way in creating that destination feel a wine region needs to attract wine lovers from beyond its own borders.
Over Sunday dinner, I opened a Koenig 2012 Petite Sirah that hadn’t been involved in my tastings at Koenig’s barrel room. Petite Sirah is getting a lot more attention in California these days, and I had become quite a fan before moving here.
Koenig’s take on it was spectacular: big tannins, silky flavors of cherry and even cola. The wine wizard of Sunnyslope is on quite a roll.
Koenig tasting room
Greg Koenig said his new wine-tasting room, located at 21452 Hoskins Road in Caldwell, should be open to the public later this month. The Italian influence is another artistic expression of Koenig, whose background is in architecture. Stay tuned to koenigdistilleryand winery.com for updates. Production of the Koenig spirits at the distillery, 20928 Grape Lane, Caldwell, will remain there.