Spokane wineries on the upswing

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 17, 2013 

I've traveled to Spokane several times, but my most recent wine-tasting visit was particularly memorable. With an increasing number of tasting rooms in a variety of settings, and with plenty of solid, reasonably priced wines, the Spokane wine scene is definitely on the rise.

This week and next week I'll focus on some of the highlights of my visit. I've noted a few standout wines here, and will post additional recommendations on my website.

First up: Arbor Crest Wine Cellars, which was established in 1982. With its expanded tasting room facility, immaculately landscaped grounds and peerless views of Spokane Valley, this is easily in my top-five list of Washington wineries you should visit.

Winemaker Kristina van Löben Sels and her husband, general manager and viticulturist Jim, have taken Arbor Crest to a new level by capitalizing on its "destination winery" status for weddings and summer concerts. They also produce some very nice wines for those who might visit strictly for tasting.

My top picks: The 2010 Barbera and 2010 Malbec (about $30 each and available only at the tasting room), and the 2012 Chardonnay (about $20). This overachieving chardonnay, sourced from Conner Lee Vineyard, displays a slightly floral fragrance, flavors of sweet clover and a creamy finish of buttery oak. Outstanding!

Two downtown Spokane wineries have always produced top-of-the-line reds, and that tradition continues.

Barrister Winery has expanded from its original 1,500-square-foot space in 2001 to nearly 26,000 today. Call Greg Lipsker, the owner and winemaker, in advance for a private tasting in the lower-level barrel room and prepare to be amazed by the subtle taste differences yielded by barrel origin, vintage and vineyard (the yet-to-be released Tapteil Vineyard 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon is a must-try).

My favorite current releases include the red-blend Non-Vintage Rough Justice (about $21); a slightly herby, almost elegant 2010 Cabernet Franc (about $28); and the 2009 Sagemoor Cabernet (about $39), with butterscotch-vanilla aromatics and nuances of ultra-black cherry, anise and espresso.

Nearby Robert Karl Cellars was established in 1999 by husband and wife Joe and Rebecca Gunselman. The winery is coined from two family names because, as Rebecca jokes, "no one could remember or pronounce a Gunselman Cabernet."

Robert Karl's flagship wine has always been claret. A true Bordeaux blend, this year's 2010 Claret (about $20) is a perfectly balanced, underpriced masterpiece with black currant and plum flavors and a silky finish. For an excellent white wine alternative and oyster-pairing partner, try the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (abut $18), with lemony notes and a crisp, clean finish.

Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at danthewineguy.com.

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