La Dolce Vita: No grapes? No problem.

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When driving in northern Idaho, through Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene, you won’t see any commercial vineyards. But the fact that each city has a very fine winery is proof that good wine doesn’t have to be made where the vineyards are.

Both Pend d’Oreille Winery and Coeur d’Alene Cellars buy their grapes on contract from Washington growers. We have been fans of their wines for a long time, and a recent trip through the area allowed for tastings at both. I wasn’t disappointed.

It’s hard to be believe that Steve Meyer is now in his 17th year making wine in downtown Sandpoint, a lovely town once better known for its beaches and close proximity to the Schweitzer ski resort. Meyer was studying to become an accountant in California when he had an epiphany and decided to divert his plans toward the wine business. That was 25 years ago and he’s been winning medals and accolades every since he first opened Pend d’Oreille Winery.

Traditional French wine making methods are preferred by Meyer, probably because he left accounting school on a break and went directly to Mersault in France to work on the harvest. While he produces the expected Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Gris and Viogner, there is also a Huckleberry Blush in the lineup, a fitting addition for an area where the wonderful huckleberry thrives.

Now available are some even more unexpected additions. Sangiovese, Malbec and Primitivo wines all bear Meyer’s trademark — smooth, full-bodied and very aromatic. These are wines that sufficient tannins to pair with a great variety of food, but can also be enjoyed on their own.

I’ve long been a fan of L’oeuvre (at the winery they pronounce it “love”), a blend that varies from year to year. It’s a huge, rich red and the 2007 version includes 44 per cent Cab Sauv, 44 per cent Merlot and 6 per cent each of Malbec and Cabernet Franc. It’s an outstanding vintage. More surprising to me was our sampling of the 2009 Meyer Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Now, Cab Sauv is rarely my go-to choice for red wines, except when it appears in Bordeaux-style blends. I find the California Cabs, especially, to be over-the-top fruit bombs without the complexity and earthiness that my favourite red wines offer. But the Meyer Reserve had the tasters in our little family group raising their eyebrows and swooning. To be honest, I don’t remember the last Cab Sauv I enjoyed as much. I don’t assign scores to the wine I taste, but if I did this one would be in the mid-90s.

An hour south of Sandpoint, Coeur d’Alene Cellars is located in a commercial/light industrial zone just to the west of Highway 95 and north of the I-90. Now in its 10th year of operation, the winery is a family project, managed by Kimber Gates, with her parents, Dr. Charlie and Sarah Gates, as her co-owners. If you like prototypical Washington state Syrahs, of which I am a huge fan, you are unlikely to be disappointed by Coeur d’Alene Cellars.

The current wine lineup offers five single variety versions of Syrah, either from different vineyards further west or blends thereof. Syrah is also blended with Bordeaux grape varieties to make No. 6 Red and with Mourvedre, a not very common grape in these parts, to create MO and also Cloud Nine, which includes a little Viognier. A small amount of Syrah dessert wine is also available.

I also enjoy BDX, the cellar’s Bordeaux blend, the Cabernet Franc (the best ones have aromas of tobacco and leather, making one wonder if the Marlborough Man didn’t just ride by) and the 2008 Cab Sauv is lovely.

White wines include Viognier, a French varietal that is growing in popularity in the Okanagan and Washington, Chardonnay and No. 6 White, a blend of Viognier, Semillon and Riesling.

Coeur d’Alene Cellars’ reds tend to be on the oaky side, which makes them especially popular with folks who like toasty, vanilla flavours.

These are without question wineries worth visiting.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.