Wine's own private Idaho

19 October, 2007

Q Why is so little attention given to wines from Idaho? I tried some on a recent trip to the States and thought they were amazing.

A Idaho is bundled together with Washington and Oregon in the Pacific Northwest promotional grouping, but receives less attention than its neighbours. The state now has something like 20 wine producers, but they tend to be small-scale and have no pressing need for export thanks to local demand. That's a recipe for high prices, even for entry-level wines, and without much of a consumer franchise for Idaho in the UK you can see why so few retailers have taken the plunge.

Idaho's winemaking tradition was lost during Prohibition and winemaking only really got going again in the 1970s. Its exponents boast of the state's excellent climate - cold winters and warm, but not overpoweringly hot, summers, which means grapes have acidity as well as sweetness.

Fans of Idaho say the wines have a European sort of finesse to them ... and since we've been unable to track down any examples in this country, we'll just have to take their word for it.

Q I've started hosting wine tasting evenings for small groups of customers and it's been suggested that we play the "wine options game". I was under the impression that this was a fairly casual affair, but I've been told there are strict rules. If that's true, what are they?

A The wine options game has become a minor classic in wine trade circles and it's generally accredited to Len Evans, the late great Australian wine legend. The rules, as you suggest, are pretty simple, though the enterprising Evans formalised them a bit and developed a board game which introduces a few complications to proceedings, such as betting. It sometimes becomes available on eBay.

In its basic form, the game is played with a group of people who are served wine from a masked bottle and encouraged, by process of elimination, to work out what they are tasting.

The options offered to them generally come in twos or threes. For example, the first option may be "does this wine come from the New World or Europe?", and those who give the correct answer continue to the next round. This could involve identifying whether the wine is a single varietal or a blend.

The trick is to make the questions more and more detailed, and to have plenty ready in case the game is played particularly expertly. After identifying grape varieties, country of origin, region, alcohol levels, oak style and vintage, the questions could go into territory such as malolactic fermentation, the name of the winemaker and residual sugar level. In practice it should not take more than five or six rounds for a winner to emerge, though if there is a tie (when the last remaining players go out at the same time) you could introduce a sudden-death question to identify the winner.

Even complete beginners stand a chance of making it to the latter rounds so they learn something while having fun.

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